Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 22–23 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 22

Rabo shows his art collection to a couple of German businessmen, and he and Circe understand enough of what they say in German to learn that they are not interested in the art but in Rabo's real estate. Circe says "we are the Indians now," and Rabo reflects that it is a common attitude in contemporary times to see America as something to be taken. Rabo says he thinks many Americans like to think of themselves as belonging to a higher civilization, whether it is another country or a country of the past, which makes them feel superior.

Rabo recalls that after he and Marilee made love he had expected they would run away together. He remembers his disappointment and confusion when Marilee explained that she had no intention of leaving Dan Gregory. She loved Rabo, but it was not practical for her to be with him because of the limits imposed by the Great Depression. She said that he had to go and she had to stay. Rabo left Gregory's house. He struggled to survive, visiting soup kitchens, shelters, and the public library, where he read extensively to try to educate himself. He considers how accumulating knowledge is less important than the way American universities act as "extended families" for their graduates.

Chapter 23

Rabo remembers that it was an Armenian who helped him get a job after he left Dan Gregory's employ. Marc Coulomb's family had a successful travel business which he used to convince an advertising agency to hire Rabo as an illustrator. After gaining some much-needed stability, Rabo attempted to get into an art class, but the teacher, Nelson Bauerbeck, said that although Rabo had excellent technique, he would not accept him as a student because Rabo's work had no flaws, no passion.

In the present, firefighters appear one night to deliver "the frantic meat of Slazinger" to Rabo's house in a straightjacket. Slazinger had been in Poland for a time helping oppressed writers. Circe is upset by it all and turns her back on the scene. Rabo is surprised to find that Circe is afraid of anything, but it seems she is "petrified by insanity."

Analysis

In Chapter 22, the author contrasts the different expectations of Marilee and Rabo after they make love to show that Marilee is a pragmatist and Rabo is a romantic, or at least he was at the time. Marilee says she needs a man to provide for her, and she knows Rabo as a young artist during the Great Depression will not be able to do so. She did not expect anything in her life to change just because they had sex. Rabo felt completely differently. He thought that making love meant they were promising themselves to each other forever, which is just about as romantic as it gets. Rabo now believes that Marilee was probably right that they would have frozen to death or starved if they'd tried to run away together. In Chapter 23 he acknowledges that he was barely able to feed himself on the streets of New York after he left Dan Gregory's employ. Marilee, like Circe, is a strong-minded woman who lives in the present. She stays with Gregory because she has to, not because she wants to, and while she suffers Gregory's abuse, there is an underlying sense that she has real strength and the capacity to rebel.

Again, Rabo finds himself alone after being kicked out of Gregory's extended family and rejected by Marilee. He mentions how universities create "respected, artificial families" for their alumni, a far-reaching community that lasts all their lives. Rabo's parents came from large biological families that were massacred in the war, but Rabo grew up in America without such a connection to other Armenians. He searches for new extended families, and finds them in the form of the U.S. Army's Officer Corps and the abstract expressionist painters he befriends. Marc Coulomb, a successful Armenian, helps Rabo land a new job, effectively saving him from the Great Depression. As he writes his memoir, it is also clear that Rabo has formed an extended family of a kind with Circe Berman, Paul Slazinger, Allison White, and her daughter Celeste. They may irritate him, but they also challenge and enrich him.

The Germans who visit Rabo's property under the guise of looking at his artwork represent a common view of America. They see it as property to be taken from those they view as too weak or stupid to protect it. The comparison the author makes between Rabo and Circe and Native Americans in her comment "we're the Indians now" recalls the way in the country was originally settled by outsiders who immigrated to the New World to take land from its original inhabitants. As Rabo says, people have a tendency to see themselves as superior citizens of a better country and others as interlopers and inferior creatures who do not deserve what they have.

In Chapter 23 readers also see another instance of Rabo's representational art criticized as having no life, no passion. The critique from Nelson Bauerbeck, the art teacher, reminds readers of the harsh feedback of Dan Gregory that Rabo's work has no soul. It is missing a sense of "personality" and fails to convey "pain." This may be something Rabo is now starting to do with his autobiography/diary, which is by turns opinionated, humorous, and painful. It is clearly a demonstration of Rabo's personality, with his often sarcastic jokes, his emphatic exclamation points, his anecdotes, and his apparently honest attempt to make sense of his life. In this way, it manages to accomplish what Rabo says his paintings did not.

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