Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Analysis

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Science is a Good Servant but a Bad Master

“Science has now known sin.”

The life of man was very different from what it was a hundred years back. Today, we are all living in a world of modern Science that revolutionized our present day society. We can see how it eventually changed our lives by making everything easier and faster. Science has helped man to lead a better life than ever before through communication, health, security, transportation and entertainment but on the other hand, Science is not just for our own good. It has created deadly and destructive weapons which is mostly used for war. Guns, rifles and grenades are some of those weapons that made man more violent, but the atomic bomb which can potentially wipe out the whole world had caused a lot of suffering and death of innocent people.

The quotation above is from the novel Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut that talks about the failure of Science as it was used to create the most destructive weapon on Earth, killing all life forms on Earth. In relation to that, the title itself of the novel is a children’s game that loops strings to create figures and the way it was used in the novel is to explore on how humans shape the world through Science and their own stupidity of misusing it that has led to their own destruction. The novel’s recurring themes like technological advancements and destruction of humanity illustrates a cross connection and relevance to the real world. It warns that if technological advancement continues without a concurrent growth in ethical awareness, annihilation of the human race is a real possibility.

Based from the book “Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut” by Susan Farrell, it criticizes the same idea that Science has already known sin through its technological advancements, since the society had completely cut off from human considerations and I admit that what the author said is true because it is historically proven that the combination of Science with human stupidity will lead to a lot of complications and cause a lot of ecological destructions which put our lives in a great danger. It becomes clear to me that most people are becoming blind to moral basis because they put too much faith in Science and they think that they can understand and control everything through it.

How the world works is still not enough to satisfy most human beings, in which greed could be the main source of our own destruction. Science has been a part of everyone’s lives that provided structure and stability. But some people may consider Science beyond sin, since it only seeks knowledge. As Science continues to be created in a moral vacuum and be used without appropriate consideration of the human consequences, all life on Earth would be in trouble and if it continues to seek in the wrong place and show no signs of correcting itself, it will only lead to the destruction of humanity because knowledge does not always mean progress and that progress is not always beneficial for everything has consequences.

Most apocalyptic science fiction novels act as a warning with regards of too much abuse of Science and its technologies. It mostly explores the possible consequences that human may encounter in the future if scientific discovery and research continues in a wrong way. Global events such as the World War II had greatly contributed to the popularity and growth of this form of literature when the possibility of widespread destruction and human extinction caused by nuclear weapons became a large public issue and a dominant threat. While some novels just serve as a mirror to our real world and provide caution about the dangers of nuclear wars, novels like Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut represents a realistic structure of the world we live in. It was created with a personal tone which speaks about the author’s personal experiences in World War II. It symbolizes on man’s ability to destroy life on Earth with its creation of the real atomic bomb which was used to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war in August 1945. The novel is an allegory that described on how the world was once destroyed by man through Science by means of nuclear bomb and it is also an author’s warning in which this kind of disaster could possibly happen again and result in a terrible future for us.

As stated by Fumika Nagano in her criticism from the book “Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Kurt Vonnegut”, Cat’s Cradle is a novel that talks about the political abuse of Science through its technologies that created an atomic bomb, a weapon for mass destruction specifically in World War II. According to the book, it was reported that it killed a lot of innocent people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan and people also died from radiation poisoning but some who survived developed some genetic diseases in which they passed on to the next generation such as leukemia. Kurt Vonnegut stated in that book that he completely lost his faith in Science when “we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima”. I know for myself that we’ve been still living in a world with these unending wars but the only way for us to survive is to think independently and reflect on ourselves. We should try to avoid being stupid unthinking sheep that simply do what everyone is doing and accepts whatever the society accepts. We need to set ourselves apart from the rest of the ignorant society.

Felix Hoenikker is not a common villainous antagonist in the novel. He is an absent-minded person that lacks interest in his family, especially with his children. He lacks an understanding of basic human emotions. But everyone appreciates his contribution to Science as he was considered the father of the atomic bomb and the creator of the weapon ice-nine, which later leads to the Earth’s destruction and the end of all lives.

Ice-nine is a small substance that Dr. Hoenikker secretly created but eventually falls into the hands of the dominant government in the novel. It is solid at room temperature and has a melting point of 45.8℃. When this substance comes into contact with liquid water that has a temperature below the melting point of ice-nine like the seas or oceans, it can cause the solidification of the entire body of water and will result to a chain of ecological destruction and end all life on Earth.

Dr. Hoenikker is the antagonist of the story due to his perception and views of life. When he was asked about the relation of science and sin, he asks, “What is sin?” From these instances, he truly shows that he does not care about people or morality and his inability to understand can create destruction and violence around him.

Vonnegut wanted us to see Dr. Felix Hoenikker as a representation of the so called “saints” in the field of Science, which are the scientists who pursue abstract truth and knowledge without considering human consequences. Most of them nowadays is being blinded by power and fame in which they just don’t care about others. Some of them works for the government in which they are being manipulated and controlled to build weapons for war. The goal for some scientists is to make their inventions successful and the result of destroying nature and killing innocent people is not their concern.

In support to that, according to Walter Shear on his literary criticism entitled “Kurt Vonnegut: The Comic Fate of Sensibility”, Science exists like a game for scientists in which they play without considering any ethical values and regardless of the destructive outcomes it can have like terrible wars and dehumanization of most individual in the society. I truly agree on his idea about scientists today because in my opinion, scientists consider themselves as masters of nature inspired by scientific advancements and I see them as cold men of Science who are cut off from human concerns. They made Science to commit sin and be manipulated as an evil tool that created the worst human sufferings and might lead to humanity’s extinction in the future.

The novel is a whole criticism to people’s ignorance. All of the ideas that a society holds about its progress and development including how it is achieved through research and discoveries by the use of Science. However, our world’s greatest or should I say the most destructive scientific discovery is the atomic bomb, which has the capacity of ending thousands of lives. So, a society pursuing a better world through Science is ironic because the further mankind dives into scientific discoveries without ethical understanding, the more destructive the society becomes.

Human beings always crave a higher form of truth that will give meaning to their lives. Religions have supplied these higher form of truths in the past but because of Science, through its advancement and its credibility, it became a kind of false religion. This period of history became known as “The Enlightenment”. It began to free the people’s minds from the teachings of the church for thousands of years. They wanted to change everything and replace faith with knowledge and reason. Today, religions and spiritual truths have become a suspect in the 21st century.

But from the criticism of Donald Morse, he brought up the negative outcomes of Science in the 21st century based from some of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels including Cat’s Cradle. He emphasized that we are preoccupied with the disastrous effect of weapons like atomic bombs but we haven’t given any attention on other unforeseen causes of Science that might as well lead to our extinction including pollution and environmental destruction.

Modern Science is considered now as a large body of knowledge and nowadays it has a large gap between the stated mission of it to improve and better human life and its actual products, which include weapons of mass destruction. Due to humanity’s greediness and being blinded by wealth, people would do anything to have full control of it, as it will eventually be used in wars. Science will lack a moral or unconcerned sense with the rightness or wrongness of something, if it ends up in the hands of an ignorant or greedy person. Human stupidity of misusing it can cause to our own self destruction.

The event that happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima created a new era for us as the world entered the nuclear age. For seven decades since the first atomic bomb was created, it became the scientists’ ambition to continue pursuing and develop these kind of weapons. Countries like U.S., Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea have admitted that they possess nuclear weapons. The recent atomic bombing event was the North Korean nuclear test that occur five times this year but the current one happened last September 9, 2016 and they did not immediately announce about the test. It is like our humanity is continuously discovering new ideas on how to destroy itself.

Science will only be beneficial if it will be used as a common good for mankind and we know that it became our foundation in developing societies and improving human life, however all of us is also worried on the power that Science possesses to destroy life on Earth. It is true that Science can create wonders by all of its discoveries and inventions but the way it is used as a weapon of mass destruction that controls our existence is not its fault. Human stupidity and its unethical values is the main cause why we have these kind of weapons at the first place. Their different ideologies went too far that they had misused Science in creating destructive weapons instead of bettering our world. In the wrong hands, Science will have the capacity to ruin lives of innocent people and if we let it to become our master then it might be the end of the world for us and we will be wipe out from the face of the Earth. We should not let Science overpower us and control our way of life. Science should be use as a support in expanding our knowledge for a great cause, promoting security and safety to everyone, establishing better societies, improving human life and strengthening our moral responsibility. Therefore, it should be our servant in a good way, and not to become our master.

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