In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, there is one scene that I found a bit puzzling.
At the store by the cemetery where Frank and Emily Hoenikker are buried, Jonah’s taxi driver becomes obsessed with a stone angel.
The store owner, Marvin Breed, explains that it isn’t for sale, and relates the story of why it is still in the store:
“It was never paid for. The way the story goes: this German
immigrant was on his way West with his wife, and she died of
smallpox here in Ilium. So he ordered this angel to be put up over
her, and he showed my great-grandfather he had the cash to pay for
it. But then he was robbed. Somebody took practically every cent
he had. All he had left in this world was some land he’d bought in
Indiana, land he’d never seen. So he moved on–said he’d be back
later to pay for the angel.”
“But he never came back?” I asked.
“Nope.” Marvin Breed nudged some of the boughs aside with his
toe so that we could see the raised letters on the pedestal. There
was a last name written there. “There’s a screwy name for you,” he
said. “If that immigrant had any descendants, I expect they
Americanized the name. They’re probably Jones or Black or Thompson
“There you’re wrong,” I murmured.
The room seemed to tip, and its walls and ceiling and floor
were transformed momentarily into the mouths of many tunnels–
tunnels leading in all directions through time. I had a Bokononist
vision of the unity in every second of all time and all wandering
mankind, all wandering womankind, all wandering children.
“There you’re wrong,” I said, when the vision was gone.
“You know some people by that name?”
The name was my last name, too.
Clearly this is a strange and powerful moment for the narrator. Yet I don’t recall it being mentioned again, except perhaps in passing.
What is the significance of this? More importantly, what is the name on the angel (I don’t believe the narrator ever gives his last name)? Does Vonnegut ever explain this?