Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle Summary and Analysis of Chapters 84-93

Frank has not returned home by the time Julian Castle is leaving, so Jonah finds himself on the terrace with Angela and Newt. They are admiring the few bright lights in the city when they notice a convoy heading toward the mountain. Soon the house is surrounded by soldiers, who say they were ordered to protect the house and the new president. Despite Jonah's protests that the new president is not in the house, the soldiers stay to keep watch.

Shortly after, there is a power outage in all of San Lorenzo. These are common, so the guests are given gas lanterns and resume their conversation. Jonah is still rattled from his conversation with Frank. He cannot stop himself from thinking about the stone angel back in Ilium. Angela and Newt are discussing their father's twin brother, who was a music box manufacturer, and his sister, who raised schnauzers. Angela comments about how different family members can become, and Jonah agrees before leaving the terrace to find a copy of the Books of Bokonon.

He asks Stanley for a copy. Stanley grumbles that the texts are filth and that anyone who reads them should be placed on the hook, but he produces a copy for Jonah from Frank's bedside table. Jonah begins to search for an explanation of zah-mak-ki-bo, but the text is too thick. He settles for reading about Bokonon's cosmogony instead. According to the Books of Bokonon, Borasisi held Pabu in his arms and hoped that she would bear him a fiery child. When Pabu gave birth to children that were cold and did not burn, Borasisi threw them away in disgust, and these became the planets. Then Pabu was cast away, and she went to live with her favorite child, Earth, because the people on Earth looked up to her and loved her. Bokonon writes of this cosmogony, a theory of his own creation, that it, like everything else, is nothing more than foma.

The next thing Jonah remembers is waking up to a series of bangs and flashes of light. He is so startled that he believes he is going to die, until he runs into Angela and Newt fleeing from their beds. They laugh at being so startled, and they note that Jonah has somehow grabbed his wallet and passport, while the Hoenikkers are both grasping medium-sized thermoses. Jonah does not know at the time that these thermoses contain ice-nine, which the Hoenikkers carried with them on the plane to San Lorenzo. The source of the banging actually is Frank Hoenikker attempting to fix the generators at the house, and Newt and Angela manage to hide their thermoses by the time Frank makes it inside the house with his future bride, Mona.

Frank immediately takes Jonah aside and asks to speak with him in private, so the two go to Frank's study. Frank attempts to be casual and persuasive in tone, but Jonah can sense the uneasiness that undoubtedly has plagued Frank for most of his life. Frank speaks in euphemisms and incomplete sentences. Finally he manages to communicate that he wants Jonah to become President of San Lorenzo in his place. He says that he is uninterested in the $100,000 salary and that he would rather maintain his role as a technical advisor. He assures Jonah that no one will contend his ascent to the office, because nobody in San Lorenzo cares about being president and to do so would be against their religion. Then Frank begs Jonah to take the job because he cannot be a public spokesperson.

Frank recounts his childhood. All of his peers would make fun of him and thought that he was a loser because he worked so much at Jack's Hobby Shop. Frank expresses dismay at their misunderstanding of his actions. They thought he had been going to the hobby shop to build model cars all day, but he actually had been having an affair with Jack's wife. Frank blames his exhaustion during the day at school on this fact. He considers it the reason that he always fell asleep in class and never reached his full potential.

Pushing away those memories, Frank returns to the matter at hand, which is to get Jonah to agree to become president. Although Jonah expresses some concern, he begins to acquiesce to Frank's request. Frank tells him that the only catch is that Jonah should probably marry Mona if he becomes president, since the Books of Bokonon predict that the next president will marry her. Amazed that the woman of his dreams might marry him, Jonah agrees to Frank's request.

Frank brings Mona to the study and leaves her with Jonah, who feels extremely nervous around her. She senses his uneasiness and assures him that he cannot make a mistake (a common greeting among Bokononists to shy people). When this does not help his nerves, she asks him if he would like to participate in boko-maru to see if that will help him talk to her. Jonah agrees, and despite his long sexual history with several women, he has never experienced such a soul-wrenching, sensual practice as boko-maru. After they finish, Jonah is on the verge of tears. He professes his deep love for Mona, who calmly reciprocates. When Jonah asks if Mona loves anyone else, she replies that she loves everyone and practices boko-maru with everyone, just as the Books of Bokonon say she should. When Jonah expresses dismay at this revelation and tries to restrain her to only loving and boko-maruing with him, she declares him a "sin-wat" and argues that to do so would be against her religion. She starts to dump him, but then he agrees that she can share her love with everyone. He also asks to be a part of her religion. He tells her that he loves her, and she again reciprocates.


Frank is like his father in his desire to avoid human responsibility. He is willing to give up a large salary and marriage to the most beautiful woman on San Lorenzo in order to maintain his life as a behind-the-scenes technician. Frank has not recovered from his childhood wounds, and he therefore cannot see past his childish desires. It seems that he wants to remain in the lifestyle he built in Ilium in his adolescence, where he was able to create and manipulate a world to his liking without worrying about what others thought of him or his talents. Again, he serves of an example of a powerful man who is unable to help humanity because he does not care about or understand people.

Mona says Frank does not care about marrying her because he is still in love with the wife of Jack the Hobby Shop owner. Aside from the negative feelings of nervousness and fear, Frank has not exhibited any other human emotions. The idea of him being in love with her creates a series of questions about the nature of their relationship and their status as a couple, but the novel does not offer any insight into the situation. It is unclear whether his "love" for her is actually love or a manifestation of the same type of lust that Jonah mislabels as love. Obviously Frank left her when he moved from Ilium, so their relationship may not have been particularly strong. It is significant that in the end, all of these possibilities are complete speculation. It may be best for the reader to follow Bokonon's advice as explained by Julian Castle: do not to try to understand, but simply pretend to understand.

Jonah accepts the presidency because of his lust for Mona and power. He tries to believe that he will be a fair and effective leader, but there is no reason for him to be any more successful than any of San Lorenzo's other leaders. He has no ties to the island and is not even a member of the Bokononist religion, so he has no frame of reference from which to work in the best interest of the people. Jonah does not seem to realize that good intentions are not enough, and he has not internalized Bokonon's teaching that all human pursuits are useless.

Jonah's interest in serving as San Lorenzo's president is also based on his belief that she is his soul mate. Unfortunately, his desire to restrain Mona from practicing boko-maru shows that he does not understand her or her beliefs, and therefore he has no good grounds on which to love her. He accepts her love of others only because he does not want to lose it himself, but he would not have done so without her ultimatum. This scenario is interesting for its suggestion of a criticism of monogamy. The practice of boko-maru, while not sexual, is extremely intimate. The idea of sharing that pleasure with any and all people seems wrong to Jonah; it seems to violate the principle of monogamous intimacy. But through the premise that spiritual love may be shared, this physical practice becomes acceptable, which leaves the reader to question whether other physical practices should be considered acceptable under certain spiritual principles.

The lies that Jonah reads in the Books of Bokonon are of a piece with childhood stories and various myths about the origins of the planets and the moon. The Bokononist version provides a distinct feeling of mysticism. Bokonon does not care how strange the myth is, because he is not trying to fool any of his followers. He is secure enough in his lies and in the people's willingness to believe them that he will even write in his own religious texts that everything he preaches is a lie. The result, regardless, is that he has acquired a following among all of the people of San Lorenzo, even among those who have immigrated to the island. This religion offers people of the world's contemporary faiths a reason to consider whether their own religions include obvious lies that are accepted as such for the sake of some other purpose.