Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle Summary and Analysis of Chapters 94-110

The next morning, Jonah and Frank travel to Papa Monzano's castle to visit him at his deathbed. The castle was built by Tum-bumwa. As they reach the palace gate, Jonah notices a huge iron hook. The sign on it says that it is reserved for Bokonon himself, and for a moment Jonah sees himself as a great emancipator who will tear down that hook and allow the people to practice Bokononism freely.

When they arrive at the castle, they wait in an anteroom. While they wait, Jonah meets Dr. Vox Humana, a Christian minister who is there to administer Papa's last rites. He has with him a chicken and a butcher knife, which he says are his adaptations of Christian ritual--since he has not had sufficient opportunity to learn about more traditional practices. After briefly chatting with Dr. Humana, Frank and Jonah are allowed to see Papa. His bed is the lifeboat of Bokonon's old ship, the Lady's Slipper. Papa is shirtless, and on his heaving chest is a pendant containing a piece of ice-nine. Papa attempts to say good-bye to Frank, and he encourages Jonah to kill Bokonon when he becomes president. Papa asserts that science is the only magic that works, and he does not want his people to learn Bokononism anymore. Then he asks for his last rites. When Dr. Humana enters, Papa demands he leave. Papa reveals himself as a devout Bokononist after all, and he demands that someone administer the religion's rites to him in his last moments.

Dr. Koenigswald agrees to administer the Bokononist last rites, although he has never done so before and is not a Bokononist himself. Jonah asks Koenigswald if doing so will violate his beliefs as a scientist, and he replies that he is not a very good scientist because he will do anything to make a human feel better, even if it is unscientific. The doctor and Papa place themselves in the position of boko-maru, and they begin the responsive reading of the last rites.

Although Papa does not die in that moment, Frank and Jonah discuss how to announce Jonah's ascension to the office of president. They agree that he will do it that day at the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy ceremony, though Frank has little to offer in terms of that decision and has already begun to retreat into his shell again. Jonah prepares a humble and hopeful speech for the occasion and makes sure everyone is invited, even the Castles. At the ceremony, traditional San Lorenzan dishes are prepared, and the guests all have a choice of Pepsi or acetone rum as their beverage. H. Lowe Crosby is the only guest drinking the rum, and he and Hazel delight in the series of cardboard caricatures that have been set up in the harbor for the San Lorenzan fighter pilots to shoot down during the ceremony. Among the caricatures are Mao, Hitler, Marx, Stalin, and Castro, and Crosby declares that almost every enemy that freedom ever had can be found in that water.

No one knows that Jonah is about to become president. He engages in small talk with the Crosbys and the Castles and then makes the mistake of eating an hors d'oeuvre, which makes him sick. He retreats to Papa's castle, and after relieving himself, finds himself face to face with Dr. Koenigswald. The doctor expresses alarm because Papa has taken whatever was in the pendant around his neck and is now as dead and stiff as a rock. When Jonah enters the room he can see that this is true, and when he taps Papa's body it makes the sound of a marimba. Papa has died of ice-nine. Dr. Koenigswald makes the mistake of touching Papa with his bare hands, and when he goes to wash his hands the water turns solid at his touch. He touches the tip of his tongue to the block of ice on his hands (curiosity kills the cat), and instantly, he freezes solid and falls to the ground.

Jonah runs to the door and screams for the servants to bring him the Hoenikkers. When they arrive, Jonah berates them about giving ice-nine to Papa and endangering humanity. None of the Hoenikkers has a response, but Newt almost immediately throws up from the gravity of the situation. Neither of the other Hoenikkers offers an opinion. Newt asks Frank if giving Papa ice-nine is the way he got his job. Frank ignores Newt and states that they need to clean up the mess. Angela tries to confront Frank for the recklessness of giving ice-nine to Papa, but he suddenly snaps. He yells that buying his job with ice-nine is no different from Angela buying her husband with it and Newt using it to buy a week at the Cape with Zinka. Then he leaves the room.


John, at one point, considers inviting Bokonon to the announcement of his presidency, but then realizes that he will have to continue the tension between good and evil because he has nothing to offer the San Lorenzans if he takes away the drama of their religion. Although he has delusions of himself as a fair and wise ruler who will lift the San Lorenzans from their destitution, he cannot bring himself to take away the one thing that is good in their lives without providing a suitable replacement. He cannot improve on Papa's practice of persecuting Bokonon and those who practice its teachings. Again, reality betrays his hypocrisy: his love, Mona, is a devout Bokononist, and he is a budding member of the religion himself. This conflict of interest pits his public duties as president against his private beliefs. The absurdity of both promoting and suppressing Bokononism reinforces the theme of a character's inability to realize the complete futility of even the most sincere pursuits.

Although Papa makes Jonah promise that he will find Bokonon and wipe out the remnants of Bokononism on San Lorenzo, he demands a Bokononist priest to administer his last rites. Papa too expresses the tension in seeming to suppress something of which he approves. Papa apparently uses Bokononism himself to cope with the reality of living on San Lorenzo and viewing the destitution of his people every day. Although he heralds the benefits of science to Jonah, he is not prepared to accept science as the primary source of truth and comfort in his own life.

Jonah expresses concern that he cannot decide whether Mona's calm indifference is a representation of the highest form of female spirituality or a testament to her anesthetized existence as an addict of the xylophone, the cult of beauty, and boko-maru. He decides to believe the former, because Bokonon teaches that it is better to believe a lie of love than to cling to a bitter truth. Yet, his realization that Mona is not perfect is a huge step toward his acceptance of Bokononism. Before this realization, he is trapped in the basic lies of lust instead of the lofty lies of Bokononism, and this step occurs on the basis of a nugget of truth about Mona's imperfection.

Following his discovery of Papa, Jonah is shocked at the recklessness of the Hoenikker children. He does not recall that he also has exhibited very reckless behavior throughout the novel, from his relationship with Krebbs to his one-night stand with Sandra the prostitute. Nonetheless, his indignation at the Hoenikker children's behavior and their unresponsiveness shows the difficulty of ensuring that humanity will learn from its mistakes. All the Hoenikkers seem concerned about is that another thing in their lives has gone wrong, regardless of their responsibility for the event. Jonah is dismayed at what little hope there could be for humanity when men like Felix Hoenikker give playthings like ice-nine to children like Frank, Angela, and Newt, leaving the fate of humanity in such hands. And would anyone else do any better with an invention like ice-nine?