The Futility of Human Endeavors
The book Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut utilizes satire and parody to comment on the critical issues of religion and science. The story takes place in fictitious settings, first in a town in New York, Ilium while the rest takes place in the island country, San Lorenzo (Vonnegut). The hardcover which was published in 1963 contrasts two human concepts, religion, and science, to determine their significance to the world and humanity. Vonnegut describes science as a means of unraveling the truth and religion as a construct built on lies and deception for the greater good. The truth behind science is a tool that is misused by humanity for financial gains and the destruction of the universe. Similarly, the lack of meaning in life or the pursuit of meaning creates lies through religion. The novel incorporates various literary devices such as satire and parody to criticize the idiocies and shortcomings of human constructs in society. The constant theme explored in the book is the covetous and self-centered nature of humanity in both science and religion. In the novel, the ideals of science as represented by Ilium, where the search for truth through science is viewed as constructive though Vonnegut criticizes scientific knowledge due to its damaging nature to humanity. Vonnegut implies that the scientific truths and facts do not give necessary answers to universal issues but rather bring devastation and death. On the other hand, Vonnegut criticizes the constructs of religion as being lies and deceptions in a pitiful attempt at giving hope to humanity. However, he later represents belief as more helpful and less precarious than science despite its inadequacies and lack of truth. The contradiction between religion and science as depicted in the book demonstrates the human deprivation brought on by both these constructs. The book which is a social commentary on religion and science explores the meaninglessness of human pursuits; as in the long run, the universe and humanity do not benefit from these constructs and only bring forth misery.
The article Hope and Despair by A.R.N. Hanuman which is a carnivalesque interpretation of Vonnegut’s novel examines the futility of human constructs and institutions as portrayed in the book. Hanuman describes and explores the themes, literary devices, and Vonnegut’s carnivalesque concepts of destabilizing the societal constructs in Cat’s Cradle (Hanuman 1)The article suggests that Vonnegut’s novel main concern is to attack the ideals or dogmas that society adhere to which subsequently inflict despair on humanity (Hanuman 1). It explores Vonnegut’s comparison of religion and science and how the institutions created on these constructs are damaging and degrading. Additionally, Hanuman suggests that society has put up the concepts of religion and science claiming to protect humanity from the unknown, but it’s just a façade. The scientific truth and advancement only lead to more damage because of humans’ tendency to control nature and life for power (Hanuman 5). It further states that the novel’s depiction of a world where lies in religion are more beneficial than scientific truth is a representation of the pointlessness of these social constructs. It highlights the futility of religion through the novel’s portrayal of Bokononism as a religion that relies on lies and idiocy to convince themselves of the significance of their endeavors. The article examines Vonnegut’s amalgam of parody and ironic comment on the novel’s realism as a mockery of philosophies and societal systems due to the meaningless of human endeavors in the long run. The title of the novel is interpreted in the article as the representation of life in general. The term cat’s cradle being derived from a game that is considered pointless is a direct metaphor for the theme of the novel. Hanuman elaborates on the Vonnegut’s depiction of religion as beneficial by suggesting the Bokonon’s deceptions are more redeeming than the scientific truths. He explains that it has the ability to encourage people to feel better about their deprived livelihood and futility (Hanuman 5). The article highlights that the novel doubts the practicality of seeking truths and presence of free will in a society operating in the confines of these constructs. It proposes that in the novel humanity need to be aware of the truths and deceits that they approve because the key criterion of choosing life philosophy is practicality. Hanuman concludes that Vonnegut implies that the institutions and concepts that give stability and structure to humanity are futile including life and the universe in general.
The article’s assertions on the Cat’s Cradle are concrete interpretations of the themes in the novel. Firstly, the article compares Vonnegut’s intent to the theory of carnivalesque where ones seek to subvert the false authoritarian system to acquire freedom. I concur with this illustration as the novel intends to condemn the concepts of religion and science and their subsequent outcomes. The look at religion and science as constructs that deny humanity free will and cause destruction prove their outcomes do not serve the greater good. It demonstrates the manner in which these ideas ultimately contribute to the human degradation and annihilation. I agree with the assertion of scientific truth as damaging despite the general assumption that it is essential in solving all problems. In the novel, the experiences of Hoenikkers showcases the exploitation of science to discover truths at the expense of humanity and the safety of the universe. The invention of ice-nine in the novel is viewed as a scientific triumph despite the fact that it was potentially fatal to humanity which is proven at the end of the story. I concur with the depiction of religion as an absurd concept that relies on deception to explain the meaning of life. However, I disagree with the article’s support for the benefits of the religion especially the claim that it is more redeeming than other constructs. On the surface, Bokononism seems like the construct that is more reliable than scientific knowledge or pursuit of truth. However, adhering to the ideas of religion has rendered the people of San Lorenzo into deprived living and more suffering. Both religion and science in the novel are equally negative and degrading. The usage of parody and satire in the novel to examine and scrutinize the philosophy, technological advancement and religion is an accurate evaluation by the article. I agree with the author’s assessment of the effect of Vonnegut’s literary devices to achieve the desired tone and convey the themes. The satirical tone enables the juxtaposing of science and belief and their consequences to take effect in the narrative. The symbolism of the title of the novel which is a game that is considered meaningless is used to achieve the theme of the futility of different interpretations of life. Lastly, I concur with the conclusion of the article that Vonnegut intends to attest the futility of human constructs and pursuits.
The novel Cat’s Cradle deals with the pointlessness of human constructs and pursuits and the concept that life is utterly without purpose or meaning. The author contrasts religion and science to imply the grave consequences of pursuing ideas made out of these perceptions. The Ice-Nine invention by Felix Hoenikker was intended to help the troops to maneuver with ease on marshy areas during the war as it has the ability to solidify water (Vonnegut). Hoenikker’s desire and concern to uncover scientific knowledge for advancement prevents him from seeing the impending danger of his discoveries. Ultimately, the invention brings total demise to humanity in conclusion by freezing all water disputing the belief that truths or science are inherently good and can solve all issues. Vonnegut criticizes the idea of truth as integrally desirable which is the universal belief by describing a world that truth is used for selfish gains at the expense of humanity in general. The proof that science is oddly exploited by authorities to create problems and bring demise to humanity than actually being integrated for resolutions attests the futility of human endeavors. The author also attempts to express the emptiness of religious conviction and how totalitarianism and religion bring more misery to the lives of already deprived people. The San Lorenzo government and Bokononism have fabricated concepts that they impose on the people in an attempt to improve the human condition and give meaning to life (Vonnegut). The constant search for meaning through religion and contrived concepts only prove to be meaningless at the end as attested by the demise of everyone despite their belief.
Vonnegut makes commentary on the futility of human endeavors and exposes society’s weaknesses. The nonsensical desolation caused by human constructs such as war that is brought on by the same ideas that claim to benefit humanity is a testament to societal failures. Vonnegut questions the aptitude of the concepts of truth and lies in science and religion respectively. Humanity’s confidence in these concepts renders futile as in the end neither the science nor religion could save anyone. Human endeavors such as the search for purpose and happiness are explored in the novel through Felix’s children. They represent the universal pursuit of happiness that is every individual’s endeavor despite its unattainable nature. The Hoenikkers get the chance to attain their true desires, but they are incapable of achieving happiness. Their bland efforts to attain happiness and obsessions in the long run only brings anguish to the universe. Vonnegut implies that pursuing human constructs to achieve contentment is pointless, as nothing will offer true satisfaction. Vonnegut’s literary style and techniques are truly effective in achieving the attitude and theme of the futility of human endeavors. The title of the novel is a representation of the leitmotif that relief and purpose is in the emptiness similar to the nothingness of the game, “No damn cat, and no damn cradle”. The novel implies the equivalent balance of lies and truths is the perfect ratio to prevent humanity from giving way to human errors and societal weaknesses. Cat’s Cradle is a commentary on the flawed universal systems and institutions and the repercussions of futile human endeavors in search of the meaning of life.
Works CitedHanuman, A.R.N. “Hope and Despair: A Carnivalesque Study of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.” The Criterion: An International Journal in English 2.1 (2011): 1-7. Web. 12 December 2017.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. New York: Spark Publishing, 2014. Web. 12 December 2017.
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