It is entirely characteristic of the wry tone of Cat’s Cradle that its two most important characters should either never appear or appear only on the last page, to utter a total of twenty-three words in direct speech. The two characters are antithetical. The one who never appears is Dr. Hoenikker, though he is pervasively present all through the book in the form of memories of him recounted by his children, associates, and enemies (he has no friends), all obsessively recorded by the narrator. These recollections present Hoenikker, in brief, as a monster of scientific curiosity and human detachment: He tips his wife thirty-eight cents for giving him coffee as he leaves to collect his Nobel Prize, having forgotten who she is. Only once, the reader is told, does he ever try to play with one of his children—the game is cat’s cradle—and then he terrifies the child into flight. Hoenikker is in a way a devil of the modern mythological imagination: a scientist whose curiosity has entirely devoured his conscience. People, the reader is told, were not “his speciality.”
Bokonon, by contrast, is an idealized guru-figure, present almost entirely by way of his recorded sayings. His philosophy defies summary but is in essence gentle, humorous, anarchic, and skeptical. To the Bokononist, only man is sacred; there is no such thing as coincidence; the Communist Party, the General Electric Company, the notion of a “Hoosier,” all rank with all nation...
(The entire section is 498 words.)