Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 10 11 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 10–11 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 10

Rabo recalls the night he first met Dan Gregory. As he walked through the streets to Gregory's elegant home, he recalls seeing homeless people, displaced by the economic collapse of the Great Depression. Rabo comments that the streets of the city were very different from what they are now, but "thanks to television," it is easier to hide a Great Depression or conceal the advent of World War III than it was then. He arrives at his destination and uses the door knocker, which is in the shape of a Gorgon, a mythical woman with snakes for hair whose gaze turns people to stone. Gregory's assistant, Fred Jones, opens the door. Rabo recognizes him as the model for many of Dan Gregory's works. He reveals that Jones will eventually perish beside his employer in Egypt, also while wearing an Italian uniform.

Rabo recalls his first hours in the house when he experienced a hazing planned by Gregory and his assistant in advance. First, Gregory appeared and declared in an upper-class British accent that he had no need of an apprentice. Then Rabo was left alone in an upstairs room, given a disgusting meal, and left out of an enticing dinner party which was in progress below and whose guests included famous people like comedian W.C. Fields, film star Al Jolson, and author Booth Tarkington. Rabo says the guests at the party never returned to Gregory's home after that evening because they disagreed with their host's positive view of Mussolini. Rabo also recalls that he first saw Sam Wu that evening, a cook for Dan Gregory. He would later become a Chinese laundryman, write to Rabo during the war, and store paintings Rabo would send him from Europe.

In the present, Rabo is only partly surprised to learn that Celeste and her friends do not recognize any of the famous guests at the dinner party other than W.C. Fields, whose old films they have seen broadcast on television. He tells Circe and Slazinger that young people have no desire for information. Slazinger agrees, but Circe takes a different view. She maintains that "most kids can't afford to go to Harvard to be misinformed." When Slazinger cites Harvard philosopher George Santayana's famous quote about the ignorant being doomed to repeat the past, Circe responds that everyone "is doomed to repeat the past no matter what" and that this is the definition of "be[ing] alive." Rabo recalls seeing a photograph in The New York Times with two pictures by Gregory in the background. One shows Robinson Crusoe as he discovers a human footprint on the island "of which he had believed himself the sole resident." The other is a confrontation between Robin Hood and Little John, before they go on to "become the best of friends."

Chapter 11

Rabo continues relating the story of his first night in Dan Gregory's home. He remembers that Jones took him to Gregory's studio, a striking space Gregory created by combining the top floors of three four-story buildings. It was filled with artifacts the artist used for his work. The studio also featured eight human skulls on the mantelpiece and 52 mirrors hung at crazy angles. Gregory, wearing black, spoke to Rabo from across the room, veiled in darkness. His accent was neither Armenian nor Russian, which would reflect his actual background, but British upper class. The artist told Rabo that he believed that being treated as unwelcome helped shape him into the successful artist he became and told Rabo about his childhood in Russia. Gregory's father had had high ambitions to become a successful horse trainer, but they were thwarted when he was not allowed to rise through the ranks, no matter how skilled he was. To Rabo's horror, Gregory, whose parents were just teenagers when he was born, proceeds to mimic his own cries as an "unwanted baby."

Analysis

The author develops the character of Dan Gregory in both Chapters 10 and 11. The artist deliberately intimidates Rabo upon his arrival by immediately announcing that he doesn't need an apprentice, leaving Rabo alone in a room, and excluding Rabo from his dinner party. When Gregory does finally speak to Rabo at any length, it is in a darkened studio from far across the room. The author's description of Dan Gregory, wearing all black, speaking in an affected accent from the darkness, reveals him to be theatrical, self-important, and highly manipulative. The setting of Gregory's studio is suitably creepy and disturbing, featuring human skulls ranging from a baby's to a great-grandfather's arranged in chronological order, plus a slew of mirrors hung at crazy angles. When Gregory imitates his cries as an "unwanted infant," the whole scenario suggests a man who is either deeply dysfunctional, wildly dramatic, or both. It is with good reason that Rabo's "hair stood on end."

His hazing of Rabo, an admiring fan and still just a kid at 17, demonstrates Gregory's mean streak. One could argue, however, that Gregory was merely recreating the experience of feeling unwelcome for Rabo that he believes pushed Gregory himself to be so successful. Whatever the reason behind his treatment of Rabo that first night, it is clear that he commands attention and enjoys being in control. Rabo was likely hoping for a supportive, nurturing connection with a mentor, but Gregory's bizarre behavior forces Rabo to feel lonelier than ever.

Vonnegut introduces the character Fred Jones in Chapter 10. Rabo recognizes Jones from many of Gregory's paintings, for which he had served as a model. He is Gregory's best friend and companion, so much so that he will even end up dying next to him in Egypt wearing the same "Italian uniform." Jones participates in hazing Rabo on his first evening in the house. He carries out most of the plan to make Rabo feel unwelcome, telling him to stay in his room, keep his hands to himself, and be quiet. It seems Jones is just as mean as his boss, or at least willing to go along with him.

In Chapter 10 Vonnegut portrays two alternative opinions about the value of learning about history in the conversation between Rabo, Circe, and Slazinger. Rabo says it seems like Celeste's generation has no desire for information, citing their ignorance of history. Circe disagrees. She believes young people learn what is useful to them and figure things out naturally. Slazinger quotes Santayana, an esteemed Harvard professor, on the importance of learning history in order to avoid repeating mistakes, but Circe counters this with a jab at Harvard and the claim that history will repeat itself regardless of young people's understanding of it. This again points to the relationship between the past and the present, which Rabo is already tackling through writing his autobiography. Does the past have anything to teach anyone or not? Is it better to not worry about the past, but to live in the present and figure things out as you go along?

Chapter 10 includes more political commentary in Rabo's comparison of the Great Depression to current politics. Rabo claims the only difference between then and now is that the current economic depression is hidden, "thanks to television." Instead of conveying information, television conceals it. He takes his suggestion step further by suggesting even a Third World War may be hidden. Vonnegut leaves this startling claim unsupported, leaving readers to wonder how technology like television might hide a depression or even a war in plain sight.

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