Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 14 15 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 14–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14

As Rabo returns from New York he enters his home by way of the foyer, an entrance hall which had been decorated by Edith in oyster white and accented with some of Rabo's favorite paintings. When Rabo enters the foyer, he is shocked to see ugly floral wallpaper on the walls and dark trim painted "babyshit brown." Instead of his prized art collection, Circe's Victorian chromos of girls on swings decorate the walls. Rabo loses his mind in astonishment and anger, repeating "I am in the wrong house!" He is so upset he knocks his eye patch off in front of the cook and Celeste, revealing his scarred eye, which he didn't even let Edith see. They say they prefer the foyer as it is now. Rabo learns that it was Circe who redecorated the foyer. Slazinger explains that he would have stopped Circe but he has recently learned Circe's true profession as a successful writer. He is angry at Rabo for not telling him, and when he realized Rabo had let him make a fool of himself around Circe, he suggested she paint the trim the shade of brown he knew Rabo would hate.

Chapter 15

Still incensed over the desecration of his foyer, Rabo learns Circe is getting ready for a date. When she enters the room, Rabo is struck with her "voluptuous figure" calling her a "sexual bully." He demands to know why she changed the foyer, but she tells him she needs to leave for her date soon. Rabo tells her to leave his home permanently. She says her presence there has done him a favor by bringing him back to life like Lazarus and getting him to write his autobiography. She also claims the pictures she has hung are more serious than the ones there previously, which she claims offer no message at all. In contrast, the chromos make a social statement because they depict innocent young girls who will have to face horrors of the Victorian age like disease, miscarriage, and widowhood. When Circe drops her watch, Celeste tells her about Rabo dropping his eye patch, and Slazinger exclaims over the hideousness of the scar underneath. Rabo remarks that he let the comment go because Slazinger has a terrible scar from his own war injury. Circe says Slazinger and Rabo have never gotten over the Great Depression and World War II—they are stuck in the past.

Analysis

Circe's redecoration of Rabo's foyer and response to Rabo's indignation show just how outrageous and self-confident Circe is. She removes the favorite paintings of the owner of a home in which she is a guest, and literally papers over his past. She is completely unperturbed by his rage over her actions and completely confident that she has done him a favor. Rabo calls her a "sexual bully" because of the way she dresses for her date, wearing an outfit that accentuates her voluptuous figure. She's sexy, and she knows it. There's nothing subtle about Circe Berman, and Rabo may feel intimidated by her confidence.

Circe believes her very presence in the house is responsible for breathing life back into Rabo. By comparing his resurrection to that of Lazarus, a dead man brought back to life by Jesus (whose story appears in the Bible, John 11), Circe portrays herself a savior. However she even one-ups Jesus because she brings Rabo back to life and gets him writing. In the novel, Circe represents living in the moment. She tells Rabo to read her work because "they're about life right now," and insults him and Slazinger by telling them they live too much in the past.

Circe's redecoration of the foyer underscores a conflict in the novel between what is considered bad art (also called kitsch, meaning lowbrow) and high art (Rabo's collection of abstract expressionist paintings). Circe is a best-selling author whose works have been made into movies, and she loves kitschy Victorian chromos of little girls on swings. She doesn't seem to care remotely about good taste—she knows what she likes, and that's good enough for her. She is firmly on the side of lowbrow art. Rabo, on the other hand, has a house full of valuable artworks that are considered artistically important and that matter deeply to him. He is just as firmly on the side of high art as Circe is of low art. There is no winner in this battle, but it does draw attention to the question of what kind of art is considered tasteful or tasteless, superior or inferior. How is art judged and why?

Circe and Rabo's confrontation is both painful and hilarious, as Rabo is so furious with Circe's new decor, which he considers a true horror, that his eye patch pops off revealing his unsightly war wound ("my most secret disfigurement"). Where Circe flaunts everything from her bad taste to her blunt opinions, Rabo has painful areas he prefers to hide from embarrassment. His confrontation with Circe forces those painful areas into the open. Vonnegut doesn't hesitate to mix humor with trauma throughout the novel. Rabo remembers a riddle Slazinger asks him about what has "three eyes, three nipples, and two assholes." The answer is themselves, two veterans with multiple war wounds between them.

The relationship between Slazinger and Rabo also develops further in Chapters 14 and 15. They are both wounded veterans, but in Chapter 15 readers learn of the extent of Slazinger's injury from a hand grenade which left him with a scar which runs the full length of his torso. Slazinger's horrific scar and Rabo's "disgusting disfigurement" make the two men allies. Their similar circumstances and friendship are the reason Slazinger feels so resentful that Rabo didn't tell him about Circe's real profession. He thinks Rabo allowed him to make a fool of himself around Circe, giving her condescending tips on writing and the publishing industry, all while Rabo knew she was already a successful writer. Slazinger turns out to have a bit of a vindictive streak when he suggests Circe paint the foyer's trim babyshit brown, a color he knows Rabo will hate. Rabo can't believe Slazinger let Circe desecrate his home. Still, their friendship seems to be strong enough to overcome the momentary betrayal each feels. Rabo asks Circe to leave the house, not Slazinger. Circe claims the two men never moved past the traumas of the Great Depression and World War II. Perhaps that is another thing Rabo and Slazinger have in common. If what Circe says is true, they represent the past, the way she represents the present. The autobiography, however, continues to move back and forth between both, suggesting there may be a meeting ground, a way to relate the past and present, rather than choosing one over the other.

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