Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

103. A Medical Opinion on the Effects of a Writers’ Strike

None of the guests knew yet that I was to be President. None knew how close to death “Papa” was. Frank gave out the official word that “Papa” was resting comfortably, that “Papa” sent his best wishes to all.

The order of events, as announced by Frank, was that Ambassador Minton would throw his wreath into the sea, in honor of the Hundred Martyrs; and then the airplanes would shoot the targets in the sea; and then he, Frank, would say a few words.

He did not tell the company that, following his speech, there would be a speech by me.

So I was treated as nothing more than a visiting journalist, and I engaged in harmless granfalloonery here and there.

“Hello, Mom,” I said to Hazel Crosby.

“Why, if it isn’t my boy!” Hazel gave me a perfumed hug, and she told everybody, “This boy’s a Hoosier!”

The Castles, father and son, stood separate from the rest of the company. Long unwelcome at “Papa’s” palace, they were curious as to why they had now been invited there.

Young Castle called me “Scoop.” “Good morning, Scoop. What’s new in the word game?”

“I might ask the same of you,” I replied.

“I’m thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until mankind finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?”

“Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out.”

“Or the college professors.”

“Or the college professors,” I agreed. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”

“I just can’t help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems . . .”

“And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.

“They’d die more like mad dogs, I think—snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails.”

I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”

“In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”

“Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.

“No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”

Turn page.