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Cat's Cradle: Novel Summary: Chapter 21 - Chapter 30

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Chapter 21 - Chapter 30

Summary of Chapter 21: The Marines March On

Breed continues with explaining how ice-nine would work. The marine would throw a crystal into a puddle and it would freeze, and so would every bit of water around it.

Commentary on Chapter 21: The Marines March On

Breed leads Jonah through the steps of what would happen if one crystal of ice-nine were used. All the water around would freeze instantly (from pond to stream to lake to river to ocean because they are all connected), though Breed does not see the significance of this. He only concludes that the Marines could “march on” (p. 48).

Summary of Chapter 22: Member of the Yellow Press

Jonah asks in a panic if ice-nine exists, and Breed says of course not. Felix died shortly after he came up with the idea. Jonah keeps pressing Breed about the ice-nine. Would the rivers, lakes, and ocean freeze too? And the rain? Breed says yes, but dismisses this hysteria and accuses Jonah of being a member of the yellow press.

Commentary on Chapter 22: Member of the Yellow Press

Yellow journalism refers to newspapers and periodicals that specialize in sensationalism to sell their product. They use scare headlines and exaggeration rather than objective fact. Vonnegut’s satire is based on exaggeration but as he says in the beginning, he is telling true lies. The reader gets the point that one has only to observe the world to see such absurd and illogical daily realities, such as a research project to get rid of mud.

Summary on Chapter 23: The Last Batch of Brownies

Jonah comments that Breed was mistaken: ice-nine exists, the last discovery of Felix Hoenikker. He didn’t leave records, but he made a chip of blue-white ice-nine that melted at 114.4 degrees. He put the chip in a bottle and went to his cottage at Cape Cod for Christmas with his children. He told his children about ice-nine, and then died. They divided it among themselves.

Commentary on Chapter 23: The Last Batch of Brownies

Jonah is now an investigative reporter on the trail of hot security news. Little Newt and his siblings have this dangerous weapon, something more terrifying than the atomic bomb, for it would end life on earth.

Summary of Chapter 24: What a Wampeter Is

In Bokononism, a wampeter is the pivot of a karass, the center the group revolves around. In this case the wampeter of Jonah’s karass is ice-nine. What became of the chips of ice-nine is a central concern of his karass.

Commentary on Chapter 24: What a Wampeter Is

Jonah turns to Bokonon as the only prophet who has useful concepts to explain the crazy world he lives in. He is now on the quest of ice-nine.

Summary of Chapter 25: The Main Thing About Dr. Hoenikker

Jonah gets Miss Faust to show him Hoenikker’s laboratory. Dr. Breed says the main thing in Felix’s life was truth, but Miss Faust says she doesn’t understand how truth by itself could be enough for a person.

Commentary on Chapter 25: The Main Thing About Dr. Hoenikker

Miss Faust evidently thinks for herself, because she doesn’t see how pure research could sustain a person. Felix didn’t care about anything human. Jonah remarks, “Miss Faust was ripe for Bokononism” (p. 54). Bokonon puts human beings in the center of his religion.

Summary of Chapter 26: What God Is

Miss Faust relates her conversation with Dr. Hoenikker where he bet her she couldn’t tell him anything that was absolutely true. She tells him, “’God is love.’” His reply is: “’What is God? What is love?’”

Commentary on Chapter 26: What God Is

Here is a classic confrontation between science and religion, which have two different languages and two different interests. God and Love do not translate into scientific terms for Hoenikker. He is not interested in people and not interested in God.

Summary of Chapter 27: Men From Mars

The door of Hoenikker’s lab was sealed off and left as it was as though it was a sacred place. On the door is a sign that says Hoenikker was “the frontier of knowledge” and that “the importance of this one man in the history of mankind is incalculable (p. 56).

The lab is a mess. There are toys all over that inspired his experiments. Miss Faust concludes that compared to an average person Hoenikker was like a man from Mars.

Commentary on Chapter 27: Men From Mars

Jonah replies that the man from Mars idea would explain his unusual children as well. The juxtaposition of the sign claiming that Hoenikker represents the frontier of knowledge and is the most important person in human history is belied by his laboratory, which shows he was a nutcase.

Summary of Chapter 28: Mayonnaise

Miss Faust and Jonah take the elevator operated by Lyman Enders Knowles, a black man who appears to be insane, because he won’t stop talking and let the passengers out. He tells them that “Re-search means look again” so he wants to know what it is the scientists have lost?

Commentary on Chapter 28: Mayonnaise

Knowles is a type of the wise fool or mad prophet, a lot like Bokonon himself who will appear later. Knowles claims Hoenikker is not dead; he just entered a new dimension. He also tells Jonah, Hoenikker’s children are “Babies full of rabies” (p. 60).

Summary of Chapter 29: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Jonah wants to photograph Hoenikker’s tomb before he leaves Ilium, thinking it will make a good jacket cover for his book: The Day the World Ended. He sees the Hoenikker burial plot has the largest marker, twenty feet high, but when he looks at the inscription it says, “Mother.”

Commentary on Chapter 29: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Each item Jonah uncovers, whether it is a laboratory or grave marker, tells him a bit of the strange story he is tracking down about the father of the atom bomb. “Mother” is the last thing he expected to see on the grave marker. The marker is to Emily, however, and testifies to the unjust neglect done to Hoenikker’s wife, and the attempt to make it up to her.

Summary of Chapter 30: Only Sleeping

On the giant marker are found poems to Emily Hoenikker by her three children. The father’s memorial marker, as stipulated in his will, is close by, a marble cube forty centimeters on each side, saying “Father.”

Commentary on Chapter 30: Only Sleeping

The markers themselves express a lot about the family. The children write poems to their mother, and even if they are trite, they express some sort of relationship with her. The father’s grave says nothing but “Father,” and his spirit is represented by a small scientific looking cube.


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