Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle Summary and Analysis of Chapters 56-66

As Jonah reads Philip Castle's manuscript, he learns more about the island of San Lorenzo and its history. When Bokonon landed on the island of San Lorenzo, the people were in a state of poverty and illness. All of the land was owned by either Castle Sugar, a company founded by Julian Castle's grandfather, or the Catholic Church. The island had switched ownership many times since its first discovery, and no one seemed to mind when a new controlling power came to claim San Lorenzo because there were no valuable resources on the island. The only person who believed the island was valuable prior to Bokonon's arrival was a crazy man named Tum-wumba. He was a dictator who had large fortifications built on one side of the island to protect it from attack, although no one ever had a reason to attack it. Fourteen hundred San Lorenzans died while building the fortifications, and about half of that group were executed for substandard zeal. Thus, when McCabe and Bokonon landed on the island, their plan to make the island into a Utopia set them apart from all of its previous owners, who had only sought control of it to exploit nonexistent natural resources.

Jonah is engrossed in Castle's book when Newt taps him on the shoulder and asks if he will join Newt at the plane's bar for a drink. Jonah accepts, and soon Newt is speaking frankly with Jonah about his relationship with Zinka and saying that he does not regret the moments they spent together at their love nest at his father's house on Cape Cod. Soon H. Lowe Crosby joins them at the bar, and he begins to complain about pissants, people who are disagreeable simply for the sake of disagreeing or who go out of their way to make others feel stupid. H. Lowe says a couple of insensitive things about Newt's stature, but Newt shows no concern about his comments. The three discover that they all attended Cornell, and they delight in that granfalloon for a moment before H. Lowe Crosby asks Newt why he recognizes Newt's name. As he tries to recall something about a Russian midget dancer, Newt tactfully steers Crosby's memory, and they return to their seats for landing.

When they land in San Lorenzo, Jonah is struck by the island's destitute state. Bokonon, McCabe, and "Papa" Monzano's attempts to raise the island and its people from their squalor are in vain, as all attempts will be because the island is eternally unproductive. While exchanging their dollars for the island's currency, Corporals, the travelers notice signs hung all over the buildings. The signs warn against the practice of Bokononism. There are also reward posters for Bokonon's capture and further warnings against "foot play." Everyone is confused about these signs, but they cannot spend much time on the issue because they are greeted by a huge crowd of San Lorenzans once they leave customs. The people are all very pale and thin, and no one looks healthy. Although there are babies in the crowd, none of them is crying, and although there are dogs in the streets, none barks, so the only sounds that can be heard are occasional coughs from the townspeople. "Papa" Monzano, Mona, and Frank Hoenikker show up in a black limousine, and after the crowd sings the national anthem and Mona plays the xylophone, Papa comes to greet the travelers.

Papa speaks English fairly well as he welcomes the travelers to his island, mistaking Crosby for Horlick Minton. After being corrected, Papa begins his welcome again, but he is struck by an intense internal pain that leaves him teary-eyed. He recovers and allows Horlick Minton to make a speech in which he expresses gratitude for the villagers' hospitality. Horlick pledges that every American schoolchild will know of the sacrifice of San Lorenzo's Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. Although Jonah does not know who the martyrs are at the time, he later learns from the island's only cab driver that the Hundred Martyrs were a group of volunteers who were to be sent to the United States to aid in the war effort after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They had barely left the harbor of Bolivar, San Lorenzo's capital and only city, when their ship was sunk by a German submarine and they all died.

Following Horlick's speech, Papa invites all of the travelers to Frank and Mona's engagement party the next day at his palace. He is mid-sentence when he suddenly doubles over in pain, commands the crowd to disperse, and then collapses in front of the microphone. He is not dead, but he struggles to speak as he tells Frank that Frank should succeed him as President because Frank has the power of science. Papa asserts that science is the strongest thing there is, and before passing out he utters the words "science" and "ice."

At this point, Jonah glances at Mona and notices that she is standing very close to one of the pilots at the ceremony with a very calm look. The pilot has a strange look frozen on his face, and when Jonah looks down he notices that Mona has removed her sandal and is using her foot to massage the instep of the pilot's foot.


The story of San Lorenzo's history and Tum-wumba is another reminder of Vonnegut's theme that all human pursuits are fruitless. Throughout the centuries, control of the island has transferred hands as different countries have tried to assert their power by capturing it from other countries. But after doing so, each country realizes that the island has no strategic value or resources. This situation creates a pointless game in which a nation takes control, loses it, forgets about it, and fights for control again years later. This is a parody of humans' desire for control for the mere sake of control. Tum-wumba, by contrast, is one of the only people who ever saw the island as valuable, although the reason he believed it to be so is unclear, save his insanity.

Half of those who died building Tum-wumba's fortifications were executed for not being sufficiently excited. It is easy to see how substandard excitement may have been a problem for the islanders, given their lot in life. The travelers' reception at the celebration is a good example of the islanders' lifelessness. It is comical to think of this reception as a celebration, because none of the islanders look or act as if they care about the newcomers except as curiosities. But their behavior makes sense because Jonah and the other visitors seem unlikely to have any real affect on their lives. Their days will still be filled with hard labor and starvation, as were the days of their ancestors.

The government of San Lorenzo exploits the people to gain some advantage over them. The island's leaders live in comfortable settings and relative wealth, while the San Lorenzans literally have nothing to call their own. When Bokonon attempted to spread the island's wealth more equally, he realized that there were just enough resources to leave every person unhappy with what he had gotten. This is the first setting in which Bokonon is presented as an antagonist to all of the other characters, and the visitors are intrigued by the wanted posters and warnings against following his teachings.

"Papa" Monzano asserts his desire for Frank to succeed him, and by doing so he perpetuates the myth that science has done good for the San Lorenzans. There is no indication that Frank's job as a scientist will make him a successful leader. Further, there are no successful leaders, because as Bokonon teaches and as the island's experience attests, all human pursuits are useless. Vonnegut leads us to wonder how much better off we are than these people after all.

Newt tells Jonah that he does not regret his relationship with Zinka. It has already been revealed that this relationship resulted in the Russians obtaining ice-nine, but Newt shows no remorse for the danger he has exposed the world to with his recklessness. Again, his attitude supports Vonnegut's theme that people do not understand science well enough to make intelligent decisions about its use--technology in the hands of people with no conscience endangers all of humanity. To Newt, his relationship with Zinka is worth the destruction of the world, even though it is clear that she does not and never did love him.