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Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut

Life, Consciousness & Existence Theme

When it comes to life, consciousness, and existence, only two things are certain: death and taxes. (Actually, you can wiggle free of taxes if you're tricky with the paperwork, so that just leaves death.) Cat's Cradle's focus on life centers on death, which makes more sense than it sounds like it should. In fact, this novel is what's known in the biz as a memento mori. Memento mori is a Latin phrase that translates, roughly, to "Remember, you will die." Cheery, no? Cat's Cradle reminds us often that we will die, sometimes in tragic, meaningless ways. But in reminding us that we are going to die, the novel also reminds us that before said death we can still appreciate beauty, whether it's art or a group of people with whom to share the time we have. So … yay?

Questions About Life, Consciousness & Existence

  1. Emily is the first person whose death is really explored in Cat's Cradle. How does her death set up the theme of death and life for the book?
  2. Reread the novel's last chapter (come on, it's only a page long). How does the novel's ending relate to the concept of memento mori? Does it say anything meaningful about the trope? Does it expand on an instance of death earlier in the novel? Does it pull a complete 180 on the entire concept?
  3. Hit up that there Google and find another example of memento mori. It can be a painting or short story or whatever. Now, compare and contrast that work's view of life and death with Cat's Cradle's. What comparison did you see? What are the similarities and differences?
  4. How do these help you better understand Cat's Cradle's use of the trope?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Science, art, and religion all become tools of death in Cat's Cradle. The novel's solution for these obscene uses of each is a humanist outlook on life.

Art cannot prevent death, obviously. But Cat's Cradle suggests that it does have the ability to lessen the fear and pain associated with death—and life for that matter.

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