Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

56. A Self-supporting Squirrel Cage

When Lionel Boyd Johnson and Corporal Earl McCabe were washed up naked onto the shore of San Lorenzo, I read, they were greeted by persons far worse off than they. The people of San Lorenzo had nothing but diseases, which they were at a loss to treat or even name. By contrast, Johnson and McCabe had the glittering treasures of literacy, ambition, curiosity, gall, irreverence, health, humor, and considerable information about the outside world.

From the “Calypsos” again:

Oh, a very sorry people, yes,
Did I find here.
Oh, they had no music,
And they had no beer.
And, oh, everywhere
Where they tried to perch
Belonged to Castle Sugar, Incorporated,
Or the Catholic church.

This statement of the property situation in San Lorenzo in 1922 is entirely accurate, according to Philip Castle. Castle Sugar was founded, as it happened, by Philip Castle’s great-grandfather. In 1922, it owned every piece of arable land on the island.

“Castle Sugar’s San Lorenzo operations,” wrote young Castle, “never showed a profit. But, by paying laborers nothing for their labor, the company managed to break even year after year, making just enough money to pay the salaries of the workers’ tormentors.

“The form of government was anarchy, save in limited situations wherein Castle Sugar wanted to own something or to get something done. In such situations the form or government was feudalism. The nobility was composed of Castle Sugar’s plantation bosses, who were heavily armed white men from the outside world. The knighthood was composed of big natives who, for small gifts and silly privileges, would kill or wound or torture on command. The spiritual needs of the people caught in this demoniacal squirrel cage were taken care of by a handful of butterball priests.

“The San Lorenzo Cathedral, dynamited in 1923, was generally regarded as one of the man-made wonders of the New World,” wrote Castle.

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