Vonnegut is referencing Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, whose narrator is also a central protagonist and character, but both fail to reveal much information about themselves. In the Book of Jonah, Jonah is trapped in a whale’s belly for several days like in Moby Dick. Bokononism represents religion in the real world. Its deliberately absurd contradictions are meant to question the purpose of religion in modern society and whether religion can still be good even if its principles are based on lies.
Bokononism also exemplifies a central theme of the book: People find reality difficult to accept and will look for numerous ways to deny the truth. The people of San Lorenzo are living in poverty and their lives are miserable so they turn to Bokononism to comfort their distress and hide the truth of the pain in their lives.
Bokonon, in deriding the people who seek meaning in life, also show a crucial theme that Vonnegut is trying to express: Life is meaningless and we often impart significance upon things that are simply meaningless.
The concept of a karass typifies the humanistic overtones throughout the book and forms a central theme in the novel, that humans should work together to benefit humanity as a whole instead of simply serving their own interests. John’s reliance on Bokononism demonstrates a fundamental theme and truth this novel attempts to demonstrate that the pursuit of truth isn’t always good and sometimes, it’s better to believe in lies than to accept reality.
Felix’s childish mentality shows how he views science as a game. Felix’s lack of empathy for others ultimately lead to the destruction of the world. Vonnegut wants to point out that science should focus on its effects on people, and if a technology only has the potential for negative effects on humans, then it should not be created. At the outset of the novel, Frank is described as a mere criminal, and this description negatively affects the appearance of his character even as new sides to his personality appear. Emily’s death, which was due primarily to Felix’s cluelessness, introduces another theme into the book: People’s ignorance or actions can have profound effects on the lives of others.
Truth is in the eye of the beholder. While Miss Pefko thinks science is useless and views it with contempt, Dr. Breed values science and sees its worth to humanity. The girls of the Girl Pool represent human ignorance, because although they work in the Research Laboratory, they have no clue what they are doing. They illustrate how living life without a purpose is often miserable. Dr. Breed’s beliefs contrast with that of Vonnegut’s, which reflect a key theme of the novel: the purpose of science should be to serve humanity. Ice-nine represents another theme in the novel: technological progress can be dangerous, and science should not be separated from its effects as technology will always be exploited for good and bad purposes. Ice-nine is similar to the real-life example of nuclear weapons, and its inclusion in the novel may be a warning from Vonnegut about the usage of nuclear weapons.
Breed is wrong as ice-nine does exist. Breed’s false assumption once again shows the flaws with his mindset and that of many others. Vonnegut believes differently, and a theme is revealed through the passage: Pure research is untenable, and science should always serve some higher purpose than the pursuit of knowledge. The tombstone shows how truth can be deceptive and that not everything is what it appears to be on the surface. Felix, despite being a great scientist and the Father of the atomic bomb, has a small grave compared to his wife Emily. The tombstone, with its inscriptions from the Hoenikker children, also demonstrates how someone’s death can affect their family. Hoenikker represents the antithesis of humanistic ideals, he seldom ponders how his actions affect others like his wife.
The concept of a wrang-wrang perfectly encapsulates a central theme of the novel, that life is sometimes outside of human control, and that random events or fate can affect life profoundly. San Lorenzo is supposed to be a utopia, but it ultimately fails because utopias can’t exist, representing human folly and inability to accept the truth. Mona represents love and faith; she firmly believes in Bokononism and represents all of their followers, and she also represents love through her beauty. Both of the Crosbys believe in granfalloons, and they show how society divides people based on arbitrary features. H. Lowe Crosby also represents the human ability to look the other way, as he likes San Lorenzo because it supports capitalism, despite all of its other flaws like its wealth inequality and lack of development.
Symbol represents punishment and fear, but also control, as it scares the people of San Lorenzo into obedience Although in the book the evil and good are physically manifested as characters, Vonnegut is also trying to point out how human nature can also be good or evil internally. The creation of weapons like the atomic bomb was due to human invention and not forces outside of human control. Bokonon represents goodness in San Lorenzo, but he is outcast by McCabe so he can gain more power, and eventually McCabe grows insane. This connects to the real world, where we sometimes don’t do things for the benefit of humanity, but rather for our own self interests, and we end up hurting ourselves.
Castle Sugar represents the evils of capitalism in contrast with humanism. While capitalism ruined San Lorenzo and its people, Bokononism with its humanistic ideals, comfort them in their pain. Mona is described almost like a goddess, with no faults or weaknesses Newt says this phrase whenever he wants to point out the lies people tell themselves. Just like how a cat’s cradle is just string, and is assigned arbitrary significance, Newt remarks that individuals often assign importance to things that are meaningless, like religion, or love. Mona also represents a theme in the book, that love can be good even if it’s just an illusion.
John realizes that Mona, as innocent as she is, is actually quite “promiscuous” in his eyes. The passage reflects how different people see things differently, as Mona does not see anything wrong with what she does, even as John forcefully objects to her behavior. Everyone on the island, even Papa, the ruler, is Bokononist, and yet, Bokonon has been exiled and his religion outlawed on San Lorenzo. Papa’s confession reveals, once again, another contradiction with San Lorenzo and illustrates a major theme in the novel: Truth is subjective, and what one perceives to be true is not always in alignment with reality. It is evident that Frank has become less willing to accept his responsibilities as an adult. Frank does things for his own interests, and fails to see how his actions affect the lives of other people.
People often are foolishly materialistic in all aspects of their life, be it love or employment. Vonnegut is pointing out that materialism doesn’t work because what’s most important isn’t in the physical.The phrase “busy, busy, busy” refers to the Bokononist belief that life is complex and demonstrates a key theme of the novel: Life can be changed by random occurrences, but individuals can also exert their free will and change the lives of themselves and others. The usage of the phrase “You Know Who” by Bokonon raises questions about whether Bokonon actually believes in a different religion. His lying character cast doubt on this, but the entire book is now viewed in a different light as one must contemplate whether a religion based on lies can be beneficial.