Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle Summary and Analysis of Chapters 44-55

When Jonah returns to his seat, Horlick Minton mentions that he overheard the Crosbys telling Jonah that the Mintons are Communist sympathizers. Horlick attempts to clarify that he is not a Communist, just a pessimist about the world's sympathies regarding the United States. He and Claire assert that Americans cannot expect to be loved throughout the world at all times because it is in human nature to hate other people. And since Americans are people like the rest, they should expect to be hated at times, too. Because the nation is in the midst of McCarthyism at this point, Horlick has lost his job because of his wife's statement to newspapers regarding America's less than perfect status on the world scene.

After this discussion, the Mintons begin explaining that Frank Hoenikker is no longer on the run from the U.S. government because he has relinquished his citizenship by joining San Lorenzo's government. They allow Jonah to examine a manuscript about San Lorenzo that was written by Philip Castle, and Jonah gets his first exposure to the teachings of Bokonon.

Philip Castle's book describes Bokononism as arising from the theory of "Dynamic Tension." Bokonon believes that the only way to create a good society is to maintain a high tension between good and evil. Bokonon, who was born on the island of Tobago in 1891, was originally named Lionel Boyd Johnson and was known for his wild and fun-loving behavior. When he turned twenty, he sailed in a ship called Lady's Slipper to London, where he attended the London School of Economics and Politics. He fought in the First World War. After traveling to many parts of the world, he and a man named Earl McCabe encountered a violent sea storm and were washed up onto the shore of San Lorenzo completely naked. Bokonon marveled at the experience of entering a new world naked, and he likened it to being "born again" in the Christian sense. The natives of the island could not say his given name, Lionel Boyd Johnson, so he adopted their pronunciation: "Bokonon." Shortly after he arrived on the island, Bokonon's shattered ship was found on shore. It was later painted and made the bed of the island's chief executive, and Bokonon crafted a legend that when the end of the world was near, that boat would sail again.

Before Jonah is able to read more about Bokonon, Hazel insists that he meet the other two Hoosiers on the plane, Newt and Angela Hoenikker. Jonah greets the two Hoenikkers, and Angela apologizes for never responding to Jonah's requests for stories about her father. She is surprised that Newt wrote a letter about the day the atomic bomb was dropped, and she expresses concern that his memories of the events are inaccurate. Angela treats Newt as a child, and Jonah is impressed by how calm and accepting Newt is in response to her insensitive comments about his inability to function like any other adult. Angela expresses the view that Dr. Hoenikker was a saint among men and, while showing Jonah pictures of her loved ones, she points out both her strikingly handsome husband and Frank's future fiancée, Mona Monzano. Jonah is shocked by both of these discoveries, and he continues to feel unsettled while he listens to Angela's story about how her husband Harrison Conners contacted her in the weeks after her father's death. They were married only two weeks after that first meeting.

When Jonah returns to his seat, he searches the index of Philip Castle's manuscript for information about Mona Monzano and tries to ignore the pain he feels from knowing she is going to be engaged to Frank Hoenikker. He shows her section of the index to the Mintons, and he learns that Claire worked for many years as an indexer. She asserts that no author should ever index his own novel, but because Castle did so, she can tell a lot of things about his personality. She reveals that Castle is an insecure man who is in love with Mona but will never marry her because he is a homosexual.


Vonnegut uses the Horlicks to comment on the dangers of xenophobia and blind patriotism following the Second World War. Due to extensive propaganda about the United States' enemies during the war, Americans retained a great amount of fear and misunderstanding of the nations surrounding them when the conflict ended. This fear allowed for the intensification of the Cold War and the race for nuclear arms, but it also created a lack of tolerance for "anti-American" or pro-Communist sentiments. The Horlicks' statements about Americans and their unwillingness to think of themselves as similar to other nations' inhabitants (that is, liked by some, disliked by others), are misconstrued as pro-Communist sentiments because it was so rare at that time for anyone to speak negatively about America, no matter how true that negativity may have been.

This is an interesting paradox, because America's wars in the name of freedom inspire the desire to suppress any question of American policies or America's standing in the world. Vonnegut highlights this paradox when the Crosbys distrust the Horlicks. The insular single-mindedness that the Crosbys portray shows the danger and ridiculousness of xenophobia. In fact, by portraying the Crosbys as "typical Americans," Vonnegut provides support for Claire's guess that Americans could be disliked by their neighbors.

It is rather humorous when Claire reveals that she can tell certain things about Philip Castle through an analysis of his index. She states that Castle is insecure--but Jonah is quick to remind her that most people are insecure. Her other declarations about his sexual preference and love for Mona are not easily verifiable, and it is unclear how she is interpreting the evidence to reach these conclusions. It is impossible, therefore, to tell whether she can actually interpret indexes correctly, and this may be another example of an unimportant and fruitless human pursuit. Even so, the episode points out that readers might be able to learn a great deal by considering the choices made by an author, even at the level of an index.

Claire's characterization of Philip's relationship with Mona contrasts with Jonah's feelings for Mona. Jonah has based all of his desire for her on her appearance and is likely sexually attracted to her--can he possibly love her at this point? According to Claire, Philip is in love with Mona but is a homosexual, meaning that he is not sexually attracted to her. It may seem strange to think about a person being in love with someone to whom he is not sexually attracted, but using Jonah as a reversal of that situation makes it more plausible. Angela's portrayal of her father shows a complete lack of concern for his inventions' negative effects on humanity and his poor treatment of her and her family. She guards his reputation like that of a saint and cannot accept the truth of his negligence. Yet, she acquired some of his negligent behavior, which allowed her to marry Harrison Conners in exchange for ice-nine. A shipwreck or a plane crash could have released the ice-nine they were carrying to San Lorenzo into the ocean, creating a global disaster. The Hoenikkers, however, could not see past their own selfishness.