Study Guide

Cat's Cradle Chapter 1

By Kurt Vonnegut

Chapter 1

The Day the World Ended

  • The novel starts with a request from the narrator: "Call me Ishmael."
  • No, wait. It's Jonah. The narrator wants you to call him Jonah. Where'd we get Ishmael?
  • He wants to be called Jonah because "[c]onveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre" have led him to be at fated places at the right time (1.2).
  • But, you know what? His real name is John, so we're going to be calling him John.
  • (Psst: This has a lot to do with the Biblical tale of Jonah. We can't get too deep into it here and now, but swing on over to our "Characters" section for a little exploration and explanation on how the two stories relate.)
  • Anyway, when John was younger, he set about writing a book called The Day the World Ended. It was to be a factual account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
  • Oh, and John is a Bokononist now, meaning he believes "humanity is organized into teams" that do God's will. These teams are called karass.
  • John meets his particular karass through a kan-kan (not can-can), or instrument of fate.
  • And, yes, these words are supposed to be funny and not—repeat not—to be taken too seriously.
  • That instrument was his unfinished book, The Day the World Ended, but seeing as John Hersey already wrote the definitive book on the subject, it's probably best he didn't finish.