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How does Vonnegut satirize humanity's obsession with the "truth?"

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footfootpaper | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 6, 2007 at 8:59 AM via web

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How does Vonnegut satirize humanity's obsession with the "truth?"

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janeyb | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted May 6, 2007 at 11:29 PM (Answer #1)

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Bokononism's purpose is to "provide people with better and better lies," lies that will keep them from seeing the Hobbesian truth, that "life was as short and brutish and mean as ever." This view justifies fiction and art, yet Vonnegut cannot easily resolve the "cruel paradox of Bokononist thought, the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it."

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renkins44 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted August 24, 2010 at 9:59 AM (Answer #2)

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Vonnegut satirizes humanity's obsession with truth by demonstrating how humanity demands illusions.

The satire is most concisely expressed in The Cat's Cradle on page 284 when the following passage of Bokonism is read by the narrator: "Midget, midget, midget how he struts and / winks, / For he knows a man's as big as what he hopes / and thinks!" Just before reading it, the narrator noted that the passage demonstrated, "the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it" (284). The reality for the midget is that he can never be as big as other full-grown adults. It is a simple fact. In other words, it is an unchanging, sad, even "heartbreaking" reality. However, the midget is probably strutting and winking because he has been conditioned to believe that his feeling of self-worth can be equal or greater to any other human. But if the reader analyzes the passage literally, then the midget truly believes that he is of actual physical stature of other full-grown adults.

Lying to the midget, by telling the midget he is as big others if he thinks it so, gives him an illusion of strength and confidence. Thus, the reader understands the "necessity" to lie about reality, especially when it makes someone feel secure and comfortable in their surroundings. However, the lie is equally "impossible" because anyone can see that midget simply is not as big as other people.

Likewise, as inferred Vonnegut's novel, all humans need illusions to feel more comfortable in a chaotic and unpredictable world. Thus humans will accept false beliefs and ideologies about life and death if they comfort its subscriber. People will believe inaccurate compliments, make excuses for the way others treat them, and follow false gods or prophets; all of this is done in the name of comfort. And who is someone else to tell them these comforts are false ("the necessity of lying") at the cost of breaking-down that person? Paradoxically, the lies are so blatantly lies ("the impossibility of lying").

 

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