1963 novel by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle (1963) is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way.
- Nothing in this book is true.
"Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." — The Books of Bokonon 1:5
- We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon ... "If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass." At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free form as an amoeba.
- Chapters 1 & 2
- All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.
- First sentence of the Book of Bokonon; chapter 4
- Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.
So be it.
- Chapter 4
- Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdling like an eight-year-old on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn. I am a very happy man. Thank you.
- Dr. Hoenikker's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (in its entirety); chapter 5
- [It] was about the end of the world in the year 2000 ... It told how mad scientists made a terrific bomb that wiped out the whole world. There was a big sex orgy when everybody knew that the world was going to end, and then Jesus Christ Himself appeared ten seconds before the bomb went off.
- Describing a fictitious unpublished novel, 2000 AD; chapter 5
- There are lots of good anecdotes about the bomb and Father ... For instance, do you know the story about Father on the day they first tested a bomb out at Alamagordo? After the things went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, 'Science has now known sin.' And do you know what Father said? He said, 'What is sin?'
- Written by Newt Hoenikker, Dr. Hoenniker's younger son; chapter 6
- There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.
- Chapter 7
- We talked about the Pope and birth control, about Hitler and the Jews. We talked about phonies. We talked about truth. We talked about gangsters; we talked about business. We talked about the nice poor people who went to the electric chair; and we talked about the rich bastards who didn’t. We talked about religious people who had perversions. We talked about a lot of things.
- Chapter 10
- [Dr. Asa Breed] said, the trouble with the world was... that people were still superstitious instead of scientific. He said that if everybody would study science more, there wouldn’t be all the trouble there was.
- Said by Sandra, a prostitute; chapter 11
- "What is the secret of life?” I asked.
“I forget,” said Sandra.
“Protein,” the bartender declared. "They found out something about protein."
"Yeah," said Sandra, "that's it."
- John, Sandra (a prostitute), and a bartender; chapter 11
- "Ah, God," says Bokonon, "what an ugly city every city is."
- Chapter 13
- My soul seemed as foul as smoke from burning cat fur.
- Chapter 13
- She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
The fat woman’s expression implied that she would go crazy on the spot if anybody did any more thinking.
- Chapter 15
- Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn't explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.
- Said by Dr. Asa Breed; chapter 15
- Often expressed as Any scientist who can't explain to an eight-year old what he is doing is a charlatan.
- I smiled at one of the guards. He did not smile back. There was nothing funny about national security, nothing at all.
- Chapter 16
- Naomi Faust (secretary): “I’m indestructible. And even if I did fall, Christmas angels would catch me.”
Dr Asa Breed (science administrator): “They’ve been known to miss.”
- chapter 17
- New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
- Chapter 18
- Round and round and round we spin,
With feet of lead and wings of tin...
- Chapter 24
- I don't think he was knowable. I mean, when most people talk about knowing somebody a lot or a little, they're talking about secrets they've been told or haven't been told. They're talking about intimate things, family things, love things ... Dr. Hoenikker had all those things in his life, the way every living person has to, but they weren't the main things with him. ... Dr. Breed keeps telling me the main thing with Dr. Hoenikker was truth. ... I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person.
- Said by Naomi Faust, secretary to Dr. Breed; chapter 25
- There was one [conversation with Dr. Hoenikker] where he bet I couldn't tell him anything that was absolutely true. So I said to him, 'God is love' ... He said, 'What is God? What is love?'
- Said by Naomi Faust, secretary to Dr. Breed; chapter 26
- [Lyman Enders] Knowles was insane, I’m almost sure – offensively so, in that he grabbed his own behind and cried, ‘Yes, yes!’ whenever he felt that he'd made a point.
- Chapter 28
- As Bokonon says: "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."
- Chapter 31
- Despite having a definite source, this particular line is misquoted on the Internet in many ways, with "unexpected", "strange", and "unusual" commonly substituted for "peculiar", and "arrangements" for "suggestions".
- "It’s a small world," I observed.
"When you put it in a cemetery, it is."
- John and Marvin Breed; chapter 31
- Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
- Chapter 32
- “Pretty? ... Mister, when I see my first lady angel, if God ever sees fit to show me one, it’ll be her wings not her face that’ll make my mouth fall open. I’ve already seen the prettiest face that ever could be.”
- About Emily Hoenikker, wife of Dr. Hoenikker; chapter 33
- “Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead. I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that’s the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead.”
- Said by Marvin Breed about Dr. Hoenikker; chapter 33
- “She said his mind was turned to the biggest music there was, the music of the stars.”
- Marvin Breed quoting Emily Hoenikker about Dr. Hoenikker; chapter 34
- The room seemed to tip, and its walls and ceiling and floor were transformed momentarily into the mouths of many tunnels – tunnels leading in all directions through time. I had a Bokononist vision of the unity in every second of all time and all wandering mankind, all wondering womankind, all wondering children.
- Chapter 34
- My second wife had left me on the grounds that I was too pessimistic for an optimist to live with.
- Chapter 36
- [Hazel Crosby's] obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows - and any nation, anytime, anywhere.
As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:
If you wish to study a granfalloon
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.
- Chapter 42
- The people down there are poor enough and scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense!
- Chapter 42
- ... I was very upset about how Americans couldn’t imagine what it was like to be something else, to be something else and proud of it.
- Chapter 44
- Americans... are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.
- Chapter 44
- "The highest possible form of treason," said [Horlick] Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love."
"I guess Americans are hated a lot of places."
"People are hated a lot of places. Claire pointed out ... that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people, and that they were foolish to think they should somehow be exempted from that penalty. But the loyalty board didn't pay any attention to that. All they knew was that Claire and I both felt that Americans were unloved."
- Chapter 45
- Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.
- Chapter 46
- It was the belief of Bokonon that good societies could be built only by pitting good against evil, and by keeping tension between the two high at all times.
- Chapter 47
- Never index your own book.
- Chapter 55
- Never had I seen a human being better adjusted to such a humiliating physical handicap. I shuddered with admiration.
- About Newt Hoenikker, a midget; chapter 59
- A pissant is somebody who thinks he’s so damn smart, he never can keep his mouth shut. No matter what anybody says, he’s got to argue with it. You say you like something, and, by God, he’ll tell you why you’re wrong to like it. A pissant does his best to make you feel like a boob all the time. No matter what you say, he knows better.
- Chapter 59
- He reported his avocation as: “Being alive.”
He reported his principal occupation as: “Being dead.”
- Chapter 61
- The San Lorenzan National Anthem. Its melody was "Home on the Range." The words had been written in 1922 by Lionel Boyd Johnson, by Bokonon. The words were these: "Oh, ours is a land / Where the living is grand, / And the men are fearless as sharks; / The women are pure, / And we always are sure / That our children will all toe their marks. / San, San Lo-ren-zo! / What a rich, lucky island are we! / Our enemies quail, / For they know they will fail / Against people so reverent and free."
- Chapter 63
- Every greedy, unreasonable dream I’d ever had about what a woman should be came true in Mona. There, God love her warm and creamy soul, was peace and plenty forever.
- Chapter 64
- "No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."
"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."
- Chapter 74
- People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they'll have good voice boxes in case there's ever anything really meaningful to say.
- Chapter 76
- Man is vile, and man makes nothing worth making, knows nothing worth knowing.
- Chapter 76
- “Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.
- Chapter 78
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.
- Chapter 81
- "My God — life! Who can understand even one little minute of it?"
"Don't try," [Castle] said. "Just pretend you understand."
- John and Julian Castle; chapter 81
- Her glissandi spoke of heaven and hell and all that lay in between. Such music from such a woman could only be the case of schizophrenia or demonic possession.
- Chapter 81
- Little Newt snorted. “Religion!”
“Beg your pardon?” Castle said.
“See the cat?” asked Newt. “See the cradle?”
- Chapter 81
- If he keeps going at his present rate, working night and day, the number of people he’s saved will equal the number of people he let die – in the year 3010.
- Dr Julian Castle about Dr Schlichter von Koenigswald; chapter 83
- He had made me feel as though my own free will were as irrelevant as the free will of a piggy-wig arriving at the Chicago stockyards.
- Spoken by the character "John" about "Frank Hoenikker"; chapter 85
- I learned of the Bokononists cosmogony .. wherein Borasisi, the sun, held Pabu, the moon, in his arms, and hoped Pabu would bear him a fiery child. But poor Pabu gave birth to children that were cold, that did not burn; and Borasisi threw them away in disgust. Those were the planets who circled their terrible father at a safe distance. Then poor Pabu herself was cast away, and she went to live with her favourite child, which was Earth. Earth was Pabu’s favorite because it had people on it; and the people looked up to her and loved her and sympathised.
And what opinion did Bokonon hold of his own cosmogony?
"Foma! Lies!" he wrote. "A pack of foma!"
- Chapter 85
- “Maturity,” Bokonon tells us, “is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”
- Chapter 88
- Pay no attention when I laugh .. I'm a notorious pervert in that respect.
- Chapter 89
- “It is not possible to make a mistake,” she assured me. I did not know that this was a customary greeting given by all Bokononists when meeting a shy person. So, I responded with a feverish discussion of whether it was possible to make a mistake or not.
- Chapter 91
- Science is magic that works.
- Chapter 97
- I agree with one Bokononist idea. I agree that all religions, including Bokononism, are nothing but lies.
- Said by Dr. von Koenigswald; chapter 98
- I am a very bad scientist. I will do anything to make a human being feel better, even if it's unscientific.
- Dr. von Koenigswald, Chapter 98
- "I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done."
"Nice going, God!"
"Nobody but You could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have."
"I feel very unimportant compared to You."
"The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around."
- Part of the Bokononist last rites; chapter 99
- When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.
- Chapter 103
- "Now I will destroy the whole world." ... It’s what Bokonists always say when they are about to commit suicide.
- Chapter 106
- God never wrote a good play in His life.
- Chapter 107
- I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?"
It doesn't take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it:
- Chapter 110
- The brainless serenity of charwomen and janitors working late at night came over us. In a messy world we were at least making our little corner clean.
- Chapter 111
- Any man can call time out, but no man can say how long the time out will be.
- Chapter 112
- “History,” writes Bokonon. “Read it and weep!”
- Chapter 113
- I am about to do a very un-ambassadorial thing ... I am about to tell you what I really feel. ... We are gathered here, friends ... to honor [the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy], children dead, all dead, all murdered in war. It is customary on days like this to call such lost children men. I am unable to call them men for this simple reason: that in the same war in which [the Martyrs] died, my own son died. My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child.
I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays.
But they are murdered children all same.
And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.
Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns. ... [I]f today is really in honor of a hundred children murdered in war ... is today a day for a thrilling show? The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.
- Said by Horlick Minton, Chapter 114
- This wreath I bring is a gift from the people of one country to the people of another. Never mind which countries, think of people…
- Said by Horlick Minton, Chapter 114
- There was a sound like that of the gentle closing of a portal as big as the sky, the great door of heaven being closed softly. It was a grand AH-WHOOM. I opened my eyes - and all the sea was ice-nine. The moist green earth was a blue-white pearl. The sky darkened. ... [T]he sun became a sickly yellow ball, tiny and cruel. The sky was filled with worms. The worms were tornadoes.
- Chapter 116
- And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.
And He went away.
- Chapter 118
- I had heard it suggested one time that the seasons in the temperate zone should be six rather than four in number: summer, autumn, locking, winter, unlocking, and spring. And I remembered that as I straightened up beside our manhole, and stared and listened and sniffed. There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight.
It was winter, now and forever.
- Chapter 119
- We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodely do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.
- Chapter 119
- “He always said he would never take his own advice, because he knew it was worthless.”
- Said by Mona Aamons about Bokonon; chapter 121
- "It's all so simple, that's all. It solves so much for so many, so simply."
- Said by Mona about suicide; chapter 121
- Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'
- Chapter 123
- This is a variation of the poem "Maud Muller" by John Greenleaf Whittier: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
- "Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before," Bokonon tells us. "He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way."
- Chapter 124
- “As far as I know, Bokononism is the only religion that has any commentary on midgets.”
- Said by Newt Hoenikker; chapter 125
- The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.
- Chapter 126
- "If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who."
- Chapter 127
- This is the last line in the book.