Throughout Kurt Vonnegut s writing, loneliness is often a characteristic of his major characters. Vonnegut shows how easily modern man can succumb to loneliness and how man reacts to this loneliness. In Mother Night as well as Cat s Cradle, key characters are in a state of solitude. Howard Campbell Jr. is in a situation very similar to the three Hoenikker children, Newt, Angela, and Frank. All four of these characters had a disturbing childhood, live an isolated adult life, and will do almost anything to remedy their loneliness.
First of all, the connection between Howard Campbell and the Hoenikker children is formed during their respective childhoods. In Mother Night, Campbell s early life is anything but normal. His father s life was his job; he worked all the time. Campbell only mentions one instance where his father is not working. This memory is of a World War I book with morbid pictures of corpses; he remembers that his father often looked at this book but became angry when Howard looked at it. This is the anecdote Howard uses to describe his father, and his father is the normal one. Howard s mother was a drunk. Howard s mother would drink and do very morbid things. And then she touched off the mixture [rubbing alcohol and table salt] with a match. The flame was almost pure yellow, a sodium flame, and, it made her look like a corpse to me, made me look like a corpse to her, (Mother Night, p.32). She followed this demonstration up by saying that this is what dead people look like. After this incident Campbell and his mother were very far removed from one another. In addition to Campbell s abnormal parents he was an only child which adds to his potential to live in isolation. In Cat s Cradle, Newt, Angela, and Frank had a very disfunctional family. Their father, Felix, was a very strange individual. None of the three children received much attention from their father because he was constantly absorbed in his work. Their mother died when Newt was born, so Angela took care of the family. Once, and only once, Felix tried to play with Newt; he made a cat s cradle and scared Newt so bad that he ran away screaming and crying. Angela s childhood is not described in detail, but it is understood that because she must care for her entire family she does not have much time to socialize. Frank spends most of his time playing with bugs or looking at dirty magazines; he doesn t have any friends. One can easily see the correspondence between the early lives of Howard Campbell Jr. and the three Hoenikker children. Both of the fathers are completely devoted to their work. The relationship with the mother is either horrible or nonexistent. By creating disfunctional families for his characters, Vonnegut foreshadows their loneliness later in life.
Vonnegut perfectly portrays the life of an isolated, heart-broken has been in Mother Night. Howard Campbell becomes emotionally dependent on one person, Helga. Oh, how we clung, my Helga and I- how mindlessly we clung, (Mother Night, p.44). When Helga dies, Howard is completely broken. It is so obvious that the U. S. government even knows it; they had a replacement because they fear he may kill himself. After the war is over, Howard is so lonely that he lives in an attic for fifteen years without a friend. Then, one day Howard befriends his neighbor, George Kraft. Kraft is a Russian spy and alerts some people of Campbell s presence in America. Through some Nazi sympathizers Helga s little sister, Resi, is able to come to America. She pretends to be Helga and sleeps with Campbell. Then Campbell learns that Resi was lying, and he is shocked. But after a few moments of consideration, Howard decides that he will stay with Resi. He does this because he is so lonely and desperately needs anyone to fill a huge void in his life. Vonnegut also shows how lonely Campbell is in his final meeting with his blue fairy godmother. Here Harold J. Sparrow, his blue fairy godmother, tells Campbell that his friends, Kraft and Resi, are spies. Instead of turning and running Campbell simply returns to his friends. After Campbell s friends are arrested, he finds himself completely unmotivated to do anything. This man is so isolated from everyone that he simply stops on the street and goes nowhere. Only when a policeman tells him to go home does he leave. Howard s life is so meaningless that he turns himself in to the Jews. Once in jail, it is implied that Howard takes his own life because he is extremely lonely.
In Cat s Cradle, Vonnegut shows his readers dangerous a lonely man can be. Vonnegut gives three emotionally unstable people a means to end the world, ice nine. In this story, Vonnegut creates his characters with physical attributes that would make them live a life of solitude. Newt Hoenikker is a midget; his sister, Angela, is described as a woman to whom God had given virtually nothing with which to catch a man, (Cat s Cradle, p.83); their brother, Frank, disappeared from the face of the Earth for several years. Newt and Angela are both slightly lonely characters, but they take refuge in their friendship with one another. Both Newt and Angela are easily engaged into relationships in which their ice nine is taken from them. Frank, however, rarely had a friend. In high school he was known as Secret Agent X-9 because he always hurried from one place to the next and never talked to anyone. Frank is described as one of those kids who made model airplanes and jerked off all the time, (Cat s Cradle, p.25). He uses pieces of his ice nine to buy a position in the government of San Lorenzo. All three Hoenikkers use their most priced possession, ice nine, to buy some sort of power. This expresses their need to bond with someone. After Papa died Frank is to become president of San Lorenzo. He recognizes that he doesn t have the people skills required to run a country, so he delegates the narrator to become the president. In the end, Frank s loneliness causes the end of the world; his ice nine comes into contact with the ocean and freezes the world.
Campbell and the Hoeinkkers lead very lonely lives, and many of their actions are a direct result of this loneliness. All of the characters are easily overcome by the opposite sex. Howard accepts his true love s younger sister as a lover, and Angela accepts a husband who she knows is only using her for her ice nine. Also, Newt spends a week in the arms of a Russian midget named Zinka. Somehow during their affair Zinka acquires some ice nine. The decade or so when Campbell lives in isolation in New York can be paralleled with the disappearance of Frank Hoenikker. Each of them chose to cut off all contact with everyone he knows. In each case the loneliness of an individual led to the death of that individual. In Howard Campbell s case, he commits suicide. In Frank Hoenikker s case, the world comes to an end. Campbell s suicide can be compared to the death of Angela Hoenikker. Angela sees how horrible the frozen world is, and she plays her clarinet that is covered in ice nine. Howard s loneliness has moved him to the point where he does not have any reason to do anything; it is implied that he takes his own life. One can easily see the connection between Howard Campbell Jr. and the Hoenikkers.
Loneliness dictates the lives of Campbell and the Hoenikkers. The roots of their solitude can be traced by to their childhoods. The extreme need to be excepted can be accredited to their loneliness. In both Mother Night and Cat s Cradle, Vonnegut does an excellent job of showing how loneliness effects man and his actions.