Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 26 27 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 26–27 | Summary



Chapter 26

Rabo recalls his life after the war. He had cosmetic surgery on his wounded eye and ended up marrying his nurse and having two children with her. Rabo remembers when he explained his marriage to Terry Kitchen as the plot of "the postwar movie." Rabo says that he and Dorothy later divorced. His boys became estranged from him and changed their last name to that of their new stepfather, Roy Steel. As his marriage deteriorated, Rabo got a letter from Italy requesting him to come testify in a trial about the ownership of some paintings that had been stolen during the war. While he was in Italy he received a note from Marilee, now the Countess Portomaggiore, requesting him to come and see her.

Rabo explains his signature painting style during his abstract expressionist phase. As he worked, he pictured the souls of people and animals, each represented by an individual strip of colored tape which he then attached to the painting's solid field. He imagined stories for each soul, stories only he knew and shared with no one.

Chapter 27

Rabo says he answered Marilee's invitation right away and arranged to meet. He recalls that he warned her over the phone about his eye patch and marriage but also boasted about his sexual experiences during World War II.

Rabo describes Marilee's luxurious, historic Italian palazzo and a little bit about its history. It had been built by Innocenzo de Medici, a wealthy aristocrat, during the Renaissance. The home had been documented in the doctoral dissertation of Kim Bum Suk, a copy of which Circe has recently and coincidentally given Rabo. Rabo says the home would later pass at Marilee's death to the closest male relative of her late husband. The heir turned out to be Leo Mamigonian, the son of Vartan Mamigonian, who had swindled Rabo's parents. Rabo realizes that, along with the palazzo, Leo must now own all of Marilee's art collection a collection of abstract expressionist works second only to Rabo's own. Rabo recalls arriving at the palazzo, which was staffed with female servants only. He first saw Marilee standing in the center of the piazza's rotunda, clothed in black because she was in mourning for her late husband. She greeted him sternly.


Chapter 26 gives readers an explanation of Rabo's abstract expressionist paintings. He represents the souls of people and animals in his paintings by applying a single strip of colored tape representing each soul to the painting's solid field of color. He sees the people and animals in his mind as he paints, and creates stories about them. In his description of the thought behind Rabo's paintings, Vonnegut touches on the debate of what art is and what it should do. Rabo sees meaning in the work that isn't apparent to an audience, only to himself. These paintings don't communicate information, but in a way they are carriers of information, if only for Rabo. They also create a space where what is real (people and animals) and what is abstract expressionist (the flow of the unconscious and the expression of emotion) painting can secretly meet.

In her brief note to Rabo at the end of Chapter 26, Marilee makes several references to their prior relationship. The note invites him to rub his feet on the carpet to make sparks, referencing the childish way he used to flirt with her by giving her little shocks on the neck, back when they lived with Dan Gregory. The note jokes, "down with modern art," parodying Gregory's opinion. The suggestion that Rabo wear green recalls the Saint Patrick's Day parade outside the Museum of Modern Art on the day Gregory caught them. Although Marilee and Rabo haven't been in touch for over a decade, these references are evidence of just how special Rabo still is to her.

But Chapter 27 has a suspenseful ending. In contrast to the sweetness of her note, the Marilee Rabo finally meets is intimidating, dressed in all black and standing in the middle of the grand rotunda of her impressive home. Instead of joking or embracing him, she meets him with scorn, calling him "my faithless little Armenian protégé." Readers have to wonder what accounts for this type of greeting. Vonnegut uses this surprising scene to create suspense and intrigue readers, as well as to establish Marilee's power.

Vonnegut includes a good bit of dark humor in the description of the palazzo's history. Indeed, the history of Marilee's palazzo revolves around power. The building was designed for Innocenzo de Medici, whose family was the most powerful in Florence during the Renaissance. He himself was the richest member of his family and seemed to value his privacy. No one who came to the palazzo, even the Pope, was ever allowed to see him except in the rotunda, where he appeared in a robe and mask. In this way, he resembles Dan Gregory's flair for the dramatic and mania for control.

Centuries later, however, it is a woman, Marilee, who owns the palazzo, and who appears all in black and in control, as if she has taken Innocenzo de Medici and Gregory's place. But because power is a fickle thing, Leo Mamigonian, the son of Vartan Mamigonian, who swindled Rabo's parents, buys the palazzo from a male relative who inherited it on Marilee's death. This seems unjust, but fits into Vonnegut's view of the world as often a place of rampant corruption and absurdity.

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