Life is a struggle to defy the inevitable. Since the beginning of time man has contemplated his own death, labored over the meaning of life, and created religion to explain all that he can not understand. Death at some point will catch up with all of society and at some point the entire world as human beings have come to know it will come to an end. No one can hide from death or attempt to out run its ever-expanding claw; death is absolute. It is possibly the only certainty in all of human existence.
Whether the sun explodes sucking itself into its own infinite gravity, or human beings finally manage to destroy this beautiful planet, life will end. All great societies have come to tragic anti-climatic ends. The Romans slowly poisoned themselves through their use of an amazingly complex lead piping system, and Athens feel eventually to an equally dismal fate. In our modern society the world has watched as many threats of global destruction have come and gone. The fact that currently the nuclear arsenal of the United States alone could easily destroy all of earth leaves many fearing that the end is near.
The contemplation of ones eventual demise leads one to think that life is no longer worth the effort to live. In Cat’s Cradle the destruction of the world is realized by the invention of a substance capable of freezing all water on earth. Its inventor was a peaceful man, a man who invented for the sake of discovery, for the sake of the human race. It was only after his death, that the greed and stupidity of man allowed this substance to end all man has struggled to create. Throughout human existence man’s disregard for his home and his environment is evident in all aspects of cultural. This disregard for the frailties of nature will eventually lead to the death of all humanity.
In Cat’s Cradle the narrator John winds his way through the events that eventually lead to the destruction of the human race. Life to John is a quest; a quest that is defined finally by his new found religion Bokononism. He feels that everyone in his life revolves around him as they all search for something of meaning in their lives; this group is called a karass. Life is a gift that is never solicited and often unappreciated after given. Human emotions are often the catalyst behind extremely destructive actions. In Cat’s Cradle John feels that he is in love with a girl that he has never met. He feels this way so strongly that he can not bear the fact of her being with another man. Eventually John comes to marry this girl who he has known for only a short time, and as she perishes he can not help but be paralyzed with grief.
The struggle of a hard third-world life is very evident in all aspects of the San Lorenzo culture. Throughout the novel the people of San Lorenzo struggle with the horrible reality that is their day to day lives. It is only in the outlawed teachings of Bokonon that they can truly find some happiness. Bokononism teaches that life is nasty, that life is short, and that human beings are basically stupid primitive being destined for failure. Through these teachings they learn to except the faults of man and actually come to better their lives and themselves.
In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle the only animal species to survive is the ant. They have accomplished this remarkable task through lack of any emotional attachment for each other. Since all the water on the planet is frozen the ants must form a ball around the ICE-9, melt it with their body-heat, drink the freshly melted water, and then eat the ones that had died from direct contact. Fascinated, John sat for hours studding the behavior of the ants. He wondered how the ants had figured that they themselves were a source of food. The cycle of life will continue as long as some life can be viewed as an expendable commodity. To destroy one for the continued life of many is excepted only if all emotion is removed from the situation.
Vonnegut has once again explored the destruction of the human race. His perceptive realization of how truly ignorant society truly is proves startling. To explore this subject in the setting of a culture that lacks what we could call civility creates a people much more dependent on faith, rather than power and wealth. Society will perish, most likely from its own creation, and when that day comes no one will realize all the mistakes that have been made until it is way to late.