Cat's Cradle: Novel Summary: Chapter 31 - Chapter 40

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Chapter 31 - Chapter 40

Summary of Chapter 31: Another Breed

Jonah’s cabdriver feels guilty about his own mother’s pitiful grave marker, and asks Jonah if he would mind a detour to a tombstone store. The place is called Avram Breed and Sons. Jonah asks the owner if this has any relationship to the scientist, Asa Breed, to whom he was just speaking. The owner, Marvin Breed, is Asa’s brother. Jonah tries to buy a stone angel he is attracted to but Marvin won’t sell it.

Commentary on Chapter 31: Another Breed

The incident with the cabdriver diverting Jonah to a tombstone store is typical of the seeming randomness of the plot, but Jonah remembers a saying of Bokonon that such strange incidents are “dancing lessons from God” (p. 63). Symbolically, it makes sense that both Breed brothers are dealing with different aspects of death.

Summary of Chapter 32: Dynamite Money

Jonah gets Marvin Breed to talk about Dr. Hoenikker. Marvin says the children bought the tombstone for their mother out of Hoenikker’s Nobel Prize money. Jonah remembers that ironically Nobel invented dynamite.

Commentary on Chapter 32: Dynamite Money

Jonah has a way of putting damaging facts together to bring out the unholy alliance of people and places. It makes a certain consistent sense that the inventor of dynamite (Alfred Nobel) would see in Hoenikker, father of the bomb, a hero worthy of his prize. Bokonon’s comment on such entanglements is “Busy, busy, busy” (p.65).

Summary of Chapter 33: An Ungrateful Man

Jonah then asks Marvin about Emily Hoenikker. Marvin had been in love with Emily himself in high school, but his brother, Asa, stole her away from him and was engaged to her. Then, Hoenikker came to town, and Emily married him, supposedly because of his noble scientific mind.

Commentary on Chapter 33: An Ungrateful Man

Marvin bitterly denounces the idea that Hoenikker was noble. Felix neglected his angelic and beautiful wife: “Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead” (p. 68).

Summary of Chapter 34: Vin-Dit

Marvin explains more about the Hoenikker children. Frank Hoenikker did not really have a criminal mind. The only thing he did well was to make models. He worked at Jack’s Hobby Shop, and when he went to Florida, he got a job in a hobby shop there that was a front for a car theft ring. Angela, the six-foot daughter, was pulled out of high school by Hoenikker so she could take care of the family when the mother died.

In the tombstone store Jonah has his first vin-dit, a shove towards Bokononism, the feeling that God has an elaborate plan for him. The stone angel he admires was ordered by his own German immigrant grandfather and never paid for. It has Jonah’s family name on it. This gives Jonah a vision of the unity of life and how everything is connected.

Commentary on Chapter 34: Vin-Dit

As Jonah learns more about the Hoenikkers, he is finally becoming aware that he is somehow tangled up with them in some cosmic plan of unity that is bringing them all together.

Summary of Chapter 35: Hobby Shop

Jonah’s next stop is Jack’s Hobby Shop where Frank Hoenikker had worked in Ilium. Jack shows him the basement where he still preserves Frank’s model country built on plywood. The detail is elaborate and perfect. Jack is emotional about Frank’s genius. The boy had no home life, so he spent all his time in the Hobby Shop. Jack cries, thinking how the Florida gangsters killed such a genius.

Commentary on Chapter 35: Hobby Shop

Jack thinks that Frank should have gone to college to be an engineer so he could build real things, but Frank’s model building did not go to waste, as the reader  finds out later. Frank is a chip off the old block as both he and his father like to play with toys. At this point, Frank’s hobby seems quite innocent.

Summary of Chapter 36: Meow

While Jonah is traveling, he lets a poor poet named Sherman Krebbs live in his apartment for free. When he returns, he finds Krebbs has destroyed his apartment and killed his cat and written nasty slogans all over.

Commentary on Chapter 36: Meow

Jonah decides Krebbs is a member of his karass, a wrang-wrang, as Bokonon would say. A wrang-wrang is someone who steers one away from a certain philosophy by reducing it to absurdity. Krebbs is a nihilist, National Chairman of Poets and Painters for Immediate Nuclear War. Nihilism, meaning “nothing,” is a philosophy that does not believe in a moral universe since the world appears to be meaningless. Political nihilism even sanctions destruction as a way to deal with things, thus implying that nuclear war is acceptable. Jonah himself may have been tempted in this direction since he is not optimistic about the world, but this is too much for him.

Summary of Chapter 37: A Modern Major General

Jonah finds out Frank Hoenikker is alive from a supplement in the New York Sunday Times. In a photo, Frank is standing next to the most beautiful woman Jonah has ever seen. Jonah falls instantly in love with Mona Aamons Monzano, adopted daughter of Papa Monzano, the dictator of the Caribbean Republic of San Lorenzo. Frank is dressed in a military uniform and is now General Franklin Hoenikker, Minister of Science and Progress in San Lorenzo.

Commentary on Chapter 37: A Modern Major General

The newspaper ad is trying to attract investors and tourists to San Lorenzo as a modern and paradisal country. Mona is a “mongrel Madonna” (p. 80) with brown skin and blonde hair and is used to allure visitors. The dictator is in his seventies, and Frank is now 26. The implication is that, the model-making boy with the chip of ice-nine, has been adopted by a dictator. He has graduated from his little model island to a real island.

Summary of Chapter 38: Barracuda Capital of the World

Jonah reads about San Lorenzo as he travels there on the plane. The capital is Bolivar with a port big enough for the whole U. S. Navy. Jonah wonders how Frank who did not finish high school is now the architect of the San Lorenzo Master Plan. Papa Monzano is advertising Frank as “the blood son of Dr. Felix Hoenikker” (p. 82).

Commentary on Chapter 38: Barracuda Capital of the World

Barracuda are vicious fish that devour everything in sight. Papa Monzano is using Frank for his own power purposes, and the phrase “blood son” strikes Jonah as reeking of “cannibalism” (p. 82). Little Frank appears to have fallen into the wrong hands, or to have used his name and legacy to buy his title.

Summary of Chapter 39: Fata Morgana

Jonah reads another article on “What San Lorenzo Has Meant to One American.” It was ghost-written and signed by Frank Hoenikker. He tells how he was rescued from his swamped boat in the Caribbean. He looked up and saw a mountain peak, Mount McCabe, and felt it was either a Fata Morgana or that God had delivered him. San Lorenzo opened its arms to him.

Commentary on Chapter 39: Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana is a mirage named after the fairy, Morgan le Fay. It implies a bewitching illusion to a traveler. Jonah explains “Fata Morgana was poetic crap” because “the S. O. B. had a piece of ice-nine with him—in a thermos jug” (p. 83). In other words, Frank went deliberately to the dictator Monzano with his secret weapon and made a deal.

Summary of Chapter 40: House of Hope and Mercy

Jonah is assigned to do an article on Julian Castle, an American sugar millionaire who lives in San Lorenzo. At the age of forty, Julian founded a free hospital in a jungle and devoted his life to the natives. Castle is now 60 with one son, Philip, who owns the only hotel where Jonah will stay.

Commentary on Chapter 40: House of Hope and Mercy

The reader learns that Julian Castle is now considered a saint like Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his philanthropy and had built a similar hospital in West Africa. Castle, however, has only been unselfish for the last twenty years. Before that, he was a drunken lecher. The hotel is named after Mona Aamons Monzano—Casa Mona. Jonah knows the only real

reason he is going to San Lorenzo is to meet Mona, his own Fata Morgana. Perhaps she can give meaning to his meaningless life.

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