Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

79. Why McCabe’s Soul Grew Coarse

“McCabe and Bokonon did not succeed in raising what is generally thought of as the standard of living,” said Castle. “The truth was that life was as short and brutish and mean as ever.

“But people didn’t have to pay as much attention to the awful truth. As the living legend of the cruel tyrant in the city and the gentle holy man in the jungle grew, so, too, did the happiness of the people grow. They were all employed full time as actors in a play they understood, that any human being anywhere could understand and applaud.”

“So life became a work of art,” I marveled.

“Yes. There was only one trouble with it.”


“The drama was very tough on the souls of the two main actors, McCabe and Bokonon. As young men, they had been pretty much alike, had both been half-angel, half-pirate.

“But the drama demanded that the pirate half of Bokonon and the angel half of McCabe wither away. And McCabe and Bokonon paid a terrible price in agony for the happiness of the people—McCabe knowing the agony of the tyrant and Bokonon knowing the agony of the saint. They both became, for all practical purposes, insane.”

Castle crooked the index finger of his left hand. “And then, people really did start dying on the hy-u-o-ook-kuh.”

“But Bokonon was never caught?” I asked.

“McCabe never went that crazy. He never made a really serious effort to catch Bokonon. It would have been easy to do.”

“Why didn’t he catch him?”

“McCabe was always sane enough to realize that without the holy man to war against, he himself would become meaningless. ‘Papa’ Monzano understands that, too.”

“Do people still die on the hook?”

“It’s inevitably fatal.”

“I mean,” I said, “does ‘Papa’ really have people executed that way?”

“He executes one every two years—just to keep the pot boiling, so to speak.” He sighed, looking up at the evening sky. “Busy, busy, busy.”


“It’s what we Bokononists say,” he said, “when we feel that a lot of mysterious things are going on.”

“You?” I was amazed. “A Bokononist, too?”

He gazed at me levelly. “You, too. You’ll find out.”

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