Destiny as a Fictive Device in Cat's Cradle, Mother Night, and Jailbird

Destiny as a Fictive Device in Cat's Cradle, Mother Night, and Jailbird
The literary genius of Kurt Vonnegut is evidenced by his
ability to weave a story from the most mundane of characters and
circumstances into an intricate web of possibilities for his
stories by using literary tools such as cause and effect,
congruence and destiny. Here we will examine Vonnegut?s use of
one of these literary tools, destiny as a fictive device, which
serves to propel the three following books: Cat?s Cradle, Mother
Night, and Jailbird. Kurt Vonnegut is a master of fictive devices
because he uses them to construct an intricate web of
possibilities for his stories to proceed on.
Destiny, as the dictionary tells us, is "a predetermined
course of events often held to be a resistless power or agency,"
and in these three novels, Kurt Vonnegut implies that destiny is
just the way things are bound to be. Some of the many forms of
destiny used by Vonnegut to guide his characters and to shove his
stories into the right direction include: destiny for people who
don?t believe in destiny; such as religious persons,
anti-destiny; the idea of what might have been, and
predestination; the idea that what happens to you is already

In Jailbird, Vonnegut uses a particularly obscure main
character named Walter F. Starbuck. Walter F. Starbuck was
a normal, law-abiding citizen in his fifties, with a wife and
a son who didn?t like him, but, by using destiny as a fictive
device, Kurt Vonnegut creates an amazing story filled with
adventure, love, and betrayal.

In the novel Mother Night Vonnegut lays out the life of his
main character, Howard W Campbell, Jr., from when he was eleven.
Howard would not think of becoming a top-secret spy agent for the
U.S.A. when he was such an unimportant playwright in Germany, who
was not even interested in war, " If war comes, I won?t do
anything to help it along."(p.40 Mother Night), but Howard has
a destiny; arranged by Vonnegut, to be a spy; thus, helping Jews
to escape the grasp of Hitler during World War Two, aiding The
United States of America to end the war, and himself having
a life that is anything but inane. Cat?s Cradle is " an
unforgettable ride!"(The New York Times). Kurt Vonnegut not only
uses destiny as a fictive device to propel the lives of his
characters, but also invents his own religion, known as Bokonon,
which is based on destiny.

The first form of destiny used by Vonnegut is destiny for
people who don?t believe in destiny. In Jailbird, for example,
this form is noted at the opening of the novel: ?Life goes on,
yes-and a fool and his self-respect are soon parted, perhaps
never to be reunited even on Judgement Day.? Traditional
institutions of religion invoke destiny, even though they all
disown the idea of destiny. Religions invoke destiny as Judgement
Day, the idea that one day, God will come to earth and judge
everyone?s soul and determine whether your soul will go to Hell
or Heaven. This form is used later in Jailbird to introduce a new
main character: ?As luck would have it, ?? The new main
character is introduced and effects the life of Walter F.
Starbuck throughout the rest of the novel, as well as the outcome
of the novel.

This form is also used in Cat?s Cradle to determine the
outcome of the main character?s life: ?It was Krebbs mission,
whether he knew it or not, to disenchant me with that
philosophy.? The philosophy that is mentioned is the idea of
Nihilism. Nihilism is the idea that there is no God that effects
us in any way, there is no destiny, no fate, and believing that
nothing makes sense. The main character in Cat?s Cradle is John.
John allows a friend named Krebbs to use his apartment and the
man destroys it. This influences John, being disgusted from
seeing the mess and his dead cat, not to become a Nihilist,
allowing the opportunity of becoming a Bokononist open. Being
a Bokononist means one believes heavily in destiny. When a main
character?s life revolves around destiny, it is easy to come up
with new ideas to keep the story going because Vonnegut makes the
main character believe in something. This furthers the length of
the novel by giving Kurt Vonnegut something more to write about.

Anti-destiny is the idea of what might have been. Vonnegut
uses anti-destiny in his novel Jailbird to show how much the life
of one main character can effect the life of other main
character(s). ?She might have been a great translator, for one
thing?I was Ruth?s inferior, you might say.?(p60-61 Jailbird)
Vonnegut uses Ruth to achieve a stark contrast between Starbuck;
an insignificant man, and the huge events that he was to
precipitate. Starbuck, her clumsy assistant, was destined to
determine the economic destiny of the planet.

Ruth was fluent in several languages, a portrait artist,
a photographer and an interior decorator. Yet for all her
ability, all her influence in the world was to produce a book
review for the New York Times. (p60-61 Jailbird)

Predestination is used throughout these three novels more
than any other form of destiny. Vonnegut uses this form to give
a simple reason for an insignificant situation, and then
expanding on that simple reason to have more to write about.
Predestination is the idea that God has already made things the
way he wanted to and humans are only catching-up. In other words,
the characters have no comment on what will happen to them.
??Sometimes the pool-pah?, Bokonon tells us, ?exceeds the power
of Humans to comment.??(p Cat?s Cradle). Pool-pah is the ?Wrath
of God?(p Cat?s Cradle). This quote states that the character?s
lives are pre-destined to what God has hand-made them to be. An
example of this in Mother Night is how Howard W Campbell, Jr.
meets his neighbor. ?I felt compelled to show somebody?, the
marvellous thing I had made.?(p48 Mother Night) The main word in
this quote is ?compelled?. Feeling compelled is a feeling of
which one feels one needs to do something without understanding
why. Howard W Campbell, Jr. feels compelled to show his neighbor,
Colonel Iona Potapov, a Russian spy, the chess pieces he just
finished carving. This led to Colonel Iona Potapov using Howard
cruelly in an attempt to advance the Russian cause (no further
details on how) because the two were destined to meet. ?If
I hadn?t carved that chess set, we never would have met.?(p48
Mother Night)

Not only did Howard W. Campbell, Jr. meet, they became very
good friends. ?After that, Kraft and I played at least three
games a day, every day for a year.?(p51 Mother Night) Kraft is
the name Howard W. Campbell, Jr. uses for Colonel Iona Potapov.
Their relationship was also predestination because it built its
self upon things that were coincidental. ?One particularly
touching thing between us was the matter of wines.?(p51 Mother
Night) Relationships are easily made by simply putting two people
in the same place at the same time and giving an explanation of
how they meet then, give a reason that sounds like it was their
destiny to meet. Now this is a new character in the story that
relates to the reader by relating to the main character.

Predestination is used as well in Cat?s Cradle by referring
to a fictive religion, which was created by Kurt Vonnegut to
write this novel and to keep it going. ?Bokonon observes that
such investigations are bound to be incomplete.?(p13 Cat?s
Cradle) Anything ?bound to be? is definitely destiny. When
something is ?incomplete?, it is because of the folly of
pretending to discover. Pretending to discover leaves something
incomplete and this leaves something more for the author to write
about. ?I was bound to find out what the banging was right away.?
John, the main character in Cat?s Cradle, found Frank,
a semi-important character in the same novel, as an effect of
being bound, or destined, to investigate. Kurt Vonnegut uses the
word ?found? because Frank had telephoned John the night before.
The call sounded as though it were secret and Frank told John to
meet him at Frank?s house and wouldn?t tell why over the phone.
Frank didn?t show up that night and John ?found? him the next
morning pounding on the front door with military protection.

Almost a dictionary definition of destiny given by John in
Cat?s Cradle. ?As it was supposed to happen.?(p63 Cat?s Cradle)
Kurt Vonnegut uses this as explaining why he chooses to write
about a piece following. This gives more support to the analysis
of destiny used as a fictive device.

Another example of pre-destiny is how John gives into his
destiny of becoming a Bokononist. ?And, inwardly, I sarooned,
which is to say that I aquiesed to the seeming demands of my
vin-dit.?(p137 Cat?s Cradle). A vin-dit is ??a Bokononist word
meaning a sudden, very personal shove in the direction of
Bokononism,??(p53 Cat?s Cradle). By making the character of
John believe in destiny, anything that happens, which sounds like
destiny, the character will react to. This gives the author more
to write about.

Kurt Vonnegut is a great author of American literature
because of how he uses literary tools to write his exciting
stories. Destiny used as a fictive device is the easiest tool
Kurt Vonnegut uses to fertilise the lives of his characters, but
it is also the most effective. If more teachers taught about how
destiny is used as a fictive device, then we would all benefit,
as writers and readers.

Destiny as a Fictive Device in Cat's Cradle, Mother Night, and Jailbird 7.8 of 10 on the basis of 2615 Review.