Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 18 19 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 18–19 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 18

Rabo remembers that Dan Gregory worked feverishly for hours, ignoring the rest of the world, a skill Rabo later developed as an artist and which he says ruined his first marriage and harmed his relationship with his sons. Gregory was so engrossed that Rabo had little to do, mostly running errands and itemizing artifacts, duties assigned to him by Jones.

Rabo recalls the night Marilee returned from the hospital and how formal their meeting was. He wishes he could have told her what her life would turn out to be. He says Marilee's view of her life and position was clear in a talk they had about Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House. Marilee wondered how things turn out after the main character, Nora, walks out on her domineering husband at the end of the play. Marilee assumes without support from the play that Nora must kill herself as she has no hope of economic survival outside her home. Rabo says this was Marilee's reality: she had "nothing waiting for her outside of Gregory's comfortable dwelling except hunger and humiliation, no matter how meanly he might treat her." He also recalls how some of his abstract expressionist artist friends committed suicide out of "terminal discontent."

Chapter 19

Rabo recalls his sexual attraction to and flirtation with Marilee. He remembers how the two of them used to sneak away to visit the Museum of Modern Art, which would have infuriated Gregory, had he known. As a proponent of realistic art over modern art, Gregory strongly disapproves of the museum. Rabo says he managed to finish the task Gregory assigned him of creating a realistic painting of the studio in six months, only to have Gregory throw it onto the fire, just as Beskudnikov had done with Gregory's first drawing of a bank note. Gregory claimed Rabo's painting had "no soul." Rabo admits that he has never been as a good a painter as Dan Gregory.

In the present, Rabo shows foreign visitors from the Soviet Union around his art collection, and they seem puzzled by Circe's Victorian chromos. He repeats her explanation about the horrors the girls would face in their lifetime, and the visitors are genuinely touched and apologetic that they had ever questioned the chromos, which they now understand to be the most important pieces in Rabo's collection. They thank Rabo, hugging him. They wave and call to Rabo, "no more war," as they leave.

Analysis

Marilee's interpretation of Ibsen's A Doll's House (which is a real play) is that the main character kills herself after leaving home because she cannot survive on her own. Her interpretation in Chapter 18 is a comment on the lack of opportunity women had at the time, because they were not allowed to work outside the home. Rabo realizes that her interpretation is based on her position in Dan Gregory's home. She is truly trapped in her abusive relationship because she would have little to no employment options if she left Gregory. She faces the plight of many abused women and perhaps women in general during the Great Depression. In Chapter 19 readers also witness the beginning of Rabo's relationship with Marilee. Despite the formality of their first meeting, Rabo admits he has sexual fantasies about her but keeps his outward expression of affection confined to silly flirtations like giving her little shocks on the neck. The two clearly bond when they plan rebellious outings together to the Museum of Modern Art. They keep their visits a secret from Dan Gregory, making him an outsider to their relationship. This reinforces the idea that there is a link between personal freedom and artistic freedom.

The theme of suicide comes up in both chapters. In addition to Marilee's prediction of Nora's inevitable suicide in A Doll's House, Rabo says that all of his artist friends (both real, such as Rothko and Pollock, and fictional, in the case of Terry Kitchen) have committed suicide. He attributes their deaths to "terminal discontentment." He guesses that he and Marilee have not killed themselves as others like them have done because he and Marilee are easier to satisfy.

In Chapter 19 the author raises the question of how art communicates. Readers recall that Circe says that art should communicate information, but ironically even her beloved Victorian chromos do not communicate on their own. The foreigners touring Rabo's collection do not understand or appreciate them until Rabo gives them Circe's interpretation that they represent the suffering the little girls will undergo as women. Besides the comedic value of the visitor's response, Vonnegut uses their effusiveness to satirize Circe's position on art as simple, clear communicator of information, as if all it takes is finding a social message in a work to make it suddenly acceptable as good art. Gregory's condemnation of Rabo's realistic depiction of the studio raises the question of how art, which is clearly more than a mere communicator of information, also may have soul. Rabo acknowledges that there is something intangibly different between his art and Gregory's, however much he has criticized it for being the work of a taxidermist. Somehow Gregory's art encapsulates and communicates his personality, "vibrant with the full spectrum of his own loves, hates, and neutralities." This is something Rabo's work does not do. Even in Gregory's case, his rigid insistence on realism may not simply reduce to something purely mechanical or domineering any more than Circe's insistence on the "information" provided by the chromos makes them superior as art.

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