Comparing Themes in Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five
Throughout his career, Kurt Vonnegut has used writing as a tool to convey penetrating messages and ominous warnings about our society. He skillfully combines vivid imagery with a distinctly satirical and anecdotal style to explore complex issues such as religion and war. Two of his most well known, and most gripping, novels that embody this subtle talent are Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. Both books represent Vonnegut’s genius for manipulating fiction to reveal glaring, disturbing and occasionally redemptive truths about human nature. On the surface, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are dramatically different novels, each with its own characters, symbols, and plot. However, a close examination reveals that both contain common themes and ideas. Examining and comparing the two novels and their presentation of different themes provides a unique insight into both the novels and the author – allowing the reader to gain a fuller understanding of Vonnegut’s true meaning.
One of the most prevalent themes in Vonnegut’s works is religion. In the early pages of Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut submits his contention that "a useful religion can be founded on lies (Vonnegut, Cats Cradle 16)," meaning that, fundamentally, religion is about people, not about faith or God. Reminiscent of Karl Marx’s description of religion as the "opiate of the masses," he describes all religions as mere collections of "harmless untruths" that help people cope with their lives. The Book of Bokonon in Cat's Cradle represents this portrait of religion at both its dreariest and its most uplifting, Bokononism is contradictory, paradoxical, and founded on lies; its followers are aware of this, yet they continue to believe because it gives them something on which to anchor their lives. Similarly, in Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut uses the writing of Kilgore Trout to comment on relgion, stating that it serves only to help people understand that which they cannot control One of Kilgore Trout’s novels involves a couple who are being studied by aliens. The aliens control a stock ticker that the couple uses to mate investments. One day, the ticker announces that the President has declared a national prayer week. The couple prays, and stocks go up, so they continue to pray. In their struggles to understand the movement of stocks, which they cannot control, the couple has created religion and invented a God to worship.
However, Vonnegut goes on to warn that those that choose to enjoy the superficial comforts provided by a religious lifestyle should brace themselves for a shocking disappointment if they ever do seek proof Of God’s existence. After all, how can God exist in a universe that permits such atrocities as Dresden and Hiroshima? What wrathful fist would level Sodom and Gomorrah without a second thought? In Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim has a gruesome crucifix hanging on his wall. The Christ on...