Cat's Cradle: Novel Summary: Chapter 41 - Chapter 50

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Chapter 41 -  Chapter 50

Summary of Chapter 41: A Karass Built for Two

On the airplane Jonah meets Horlick Minton, the new American Ambassador to San Lorenzo, and his wife, Claire. They are an older frail couple absorbed in each other. Minton is obviously not happy about the assignment, but Jonah cannot get the couple to chat with him.

Commentary on Chapter 41: A Karass Built for Two

Bokonon calls such a couple a duprass, a karass or group of only two, who usually die within a week of each other. The Mintons have their own exclusive jokes and references, and Jonah is treated as an outsider.

Summary of Chapter 42: Bicycles for Afghanistan

Another couple on the plane is friendlier—H. Lowe Crosby and his wife, Hazel, in their fifties, from Evanston, Illinois. He has a bicycle factory in Chicago full of “ungrateful” employees, so he is moving his plant to San Lorenzo where the natives have “discipline” (p. 89). Hazel discovers that Jonah is originally from Indiana like she is: a fellow Hoosier!

Commentary on Chapter 42: Bicycles for Afghanistan

Jonah comments that Hazel’s obsession for Hoosiers is what Bokonon calls a granfalloon, a false karass, or a meaningless group. Crosby is an old fashioned capitalist who is in search of workers he can exploit.

Summary of Chapter 43: The Demonstrator

Crosby thinks dictatorships are all right, because when Papa Monzano gives his word, that’s that. They have no crime in San Lorenzo because they have a perfect deterrent: the hook, a torture device. Any broken law gets the same death by torture. Hazel likes that everyone there speaks English and is a Christian.

Commentary on Chapter 43: The Demonstrator

This chapter shows Vonnegut’s black humor at its best, as the Lowes discuss forms of torture. Jonah says Lowe seemed to think the only purpose for other lives was to build bicycles for him.

Summary of Chapter 44: Communist Sympathizers

The Lowes tell Jonah that Ambassador Minton had once been fired for being soft on communism. Minton overhears the remark and tells Jonah he was fired for pessimism, not communism.

Commentary on Chapter 44: Communist Sympathizers

It is apparent that the Mintons are intelligent and do not like the Ugly American syndrome, exemplified by the Lowes, who ignorantly tramp all over the globe full of their own assumed virtues.

Summary of Chapter 45: Why Americans are Hated

Minton explains why he is thought a pessimist. It is treason to imply that Americans are not loved wherever they go, but the Mintons have seen that Americans are hated in many places for their arrogance. Minton was fired during the McCarthy era.

Commentary on Chapter 45: Why Americans are Hated

The Lowes typify the sort of Americans who believe they are God’s chosen people and that there is something wrong with others if they don’t love and embrace them and their capitalist values, especially the workers. Joseph McCarthy was a U.S. Senator who conducted a communist scare campaign in the 1950s. Many people, like Minton, were fired for unsubstantiated communist connections.

Summary of Chapter 46: The Bokononist Method for Handling Caesar

Jonah asks Minton about Frank Hoenikker’s legal status with the United Sates. Minton says Frank is no longer a U.S. citizen because he is serving in the armed forces of a foreign state. Minton shows Jonah the only book ever written about San Lorenzo, by Phillip Castle, the hotel owner. It is here that Jonah learns about Bokonon.

Commentary on Chapter 46: The Bokononist Method for Handling Caesar

Jonah’s eye rests on a saying of Bokonon’s: “Pay no attention to Caesar” (p. 101). It is a play on Christ’s teaching to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and unto God that which belongs to God. Christ meant that one should be a good citizen and follow the government’s law, but not to forget one’s primary duty to God. He was trying to avoid being a political rebel by separating religious duty and civic duty. Bokonon comes right out and says that Caesar, or the government, should be ignored because it doesn’t know what it is doing. This was a popular idea with the sixties’ war protestors who adored this book.

Summary of Chapter 47: Dynamic Tension

 

Jonah is reading the book and does not notice when the plane touches down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that a midget and tall woman come aboard. He is reading about Bokonon’s theory of Dynamic Tension between good and evil, the principle needed to keep a society in balance.

Commentary on Chapter 47: Dynamic Tension

 

This principle explains how to use the made-up tension between good and evil to control the people. Someone has to play bad cop and someone has to play good cop. The next chapters explain how Bokonon set up the tension in the country to keep the equilibrium, with himself as the good outlaw and the dictator as the bad person in power.

Summary of Chapter 48: Just Like Saint Augustine

 

Jonah reads the life story of Bokonon, a Negro called Lionel Boyd Johnson, who was an Episcopalian from a wealthy family on British Tobago. As a young man, Lionel was a party boy. He changed, like St. Augustine.

Commentary on Chapter 48: Just Like Saint Augustine

 

St. Augustine, a Catholic saint, led a pagan life until converted to Christianity. The next few chapters detail Johnson’s life and why he became a religious prophet on San Lorenzo.

Summary of Chapter 49: A Fish Pitched Up By an Angry Sea

 

Johnson went to the London School of Economics and Political Science and then fought in World War I. He was captured by Germans, escaped and went to Newport, Rhode Island where he was a gardener and met a rich young man who hired Johnson as first mate on his yacht. The boat sank and only Johnson survived. He went to India and became a follower of Gandhi. Eventually he meets a Marine deserter, Earl McCabe. They end up together in San Lorenzo, shipwrecked, but the prophecy is that Johnson’s lifeboat, painted gold, will sail again when the end of the world is near.

Commentary on Chapter 49: A Fish Pitched Up By an Angry Sea

This ridiculous history of being captured multiple times by various armies parallels the later history of Nestor Aamons who was forced to work for various competing governments. There is a comic interplay of mundane and cosmic references that make up Johnson’s history. Vonnegut again parodies Melville’s epic by throwing in a prophecy of doom, as there was for Captain Ahab’s death. John son has seen a lot, read a lot, and been through a lot. He even participated in Gandhi’s non-violent revolution in India. He evolves his own philosophy and religion in San Lorenzo.

Summary of Chapter 50: A Nice Midget

 

Hazel Lowe interrupts Jonah’s reading by announcing she has just met two more Hoosiers on the plane, a Mrs. Conners and her brother, Newt Hoenikker.

Commentary on Chapter 50: A Nice Midget

 

The plot thickens as Jonah’s karass assembles on San Lorenzo for their final event together.