Cat’s Cradle; Would you take Ice-9?

I’ve been in a Vonnegut rut lately. Not that that’s a bad thing. I actually like Vonnegut. Although I would say that Cat’s Cradle is much better than Slaughterhouse-Five, which only more well-known (in my humble opinion) because it deals more directly with WWII. Not to say that WWII is any more or less important or shouldn’t be treated very gravely, but on terms of pure literary structure, I prefer Cat’s Cradle.

Now, let’s launch into this book. First off, having dated a chemist, I can say that the reports in here of the guy who invented the atom bomb were markedly familiar (although obviously blown a little out of proportion by his dramatic children). But I mean, the premise of the story is so fascinating; a author who is trying to piece together the single day in which the world changed for forever; the day the bomb was dropped. And what better to document on that day than the life of the man who invented the bomb? Obviously, as all writers do, he gets involved in the story a little too much; tracking down all the Hoenikker children; one a dwarf, one a social recluse, and one a less-than-average housewife. The adventure eventually leads him to a literally worthless island in the middle of the Caribbean, and in the type of comedy that you find yourself ashamed and embarrassed to laugh at, the world ends. I’ll let you find out how that happens, but you can probably conjecture if you keep reading.

What I thought was so interesting  is that there are so many subtly important parts of this novel that really make you pay attention. It’s like that age-old saying. Why do people whisper? It’s not necessarily always to remain quiet. It’s to make you listen. And this is definitely true of Cat’s Cradle. For example, the end of the world is not brought about by a huge nuclear bomb, as was thought by the almost everyone in that generation; but it was brought about by a whispered sliver of something so small and unnoticeable, that it’s passed over by the whole world until it’s too late. And how does this weapon come about? By the musings of a war general, who asks Hoenikker to get rid of mud. To make it go away. Completely. A seemingly complex problem with a pretty simple, childish explanation. Like that logic problem of, “how do you put an elephant into a refrigerator? You open the fridge door, put the elephant in it, and close the door.”

But what’s also interesting is that is how the weapon of Ice-9 was invented, correct? But by what means is the destruction of the world delivered? Through the fallible and oftentimes weak, pathetic human value of love (excuse the cynicism). For we obviously read about how the Hoenikker children each take a small sliver of Ice-9 as a keepsake, security deposit, lucky charm etc etc from their dead father. And what then? The youngest loses it to a dwarf he falls in love with. The oldest, the sister, loses it to a man who she knows would otherwise never marry her. And the middle child gives it to a fatherly figure, the “king” of the pathetic island of San Lorenzo. All three; gave away the one weapon that would destroy the world in minutes or less, out of love. And love that they knew wasn’t real, but rather, a love that they knew they had to buy. How sad and beautiful, that the world doesn’t end out of hate, greed, lust, or power-vying, but out of the ever hungry need for people to just feel loved.

Which leaves me with one question. If the world was dead, if there was no one else left to love, to find, to meet, and the future of the world seemed absolutely uncertain; would it be worth it to live? Or would you take the Ice-9? Is life without love worth it?


About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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