by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle Theme of Truth
At first glance, it may seem like Cat's Cradle is opposed to the idea of truth—you know, like the truth accidently ran over Vonnegut's dog, and he never forgave it. But that's a little too simplistic a way to describe Cat's Cradle's view of truth. The novel is actually just opposed to the idea that pure, uncut truth has value. The novel wants us to engage in the truth, but it warns us that truth all by itself is a cold and unforgiving thing. If the truth is such a depressing thing, then why not lie a little to ourselves through religion? Does lying make the truth and our lives a little more bearable? If yes, then go for it. From this viewpoint, Cat's Cradle seems to be the forebear of Stephen Colbert's idea of truthiness. Hey, Stephen, you're welcome.
Questions About Truth
- What character do you see as the most truthful in Cat's Cradle? How about the least truthful? What does this tell you about the nature of truth in the novel?
- Are there any instances in the novel where truth is seen in a positive light? If so, where and how do these instances complicate the theme of truth? If not, why do you think the novel promotes a completely negative view of the truth?
- What is the opposite of truth? Is it lies? Ignorance? Disbelief? Do you have to be aware of the truth and choose to reject it?
Chew on This
Cat's Cradle draws a distinct line between truth and knowledge. Knowledge is simply facts, while truth is the way we interpret those facts. Dr. Breed's major fault as a character is his inability to distinguish between the two.
Cat's Cradle has many instances where "life imitates art." These instances suggest that by lying to ourselves we might just be lucky—or unlucky—enough to lie our way to the truth. (Check out our "Art & Culture" theme for more.)