Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 28 29 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 28–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 28

Rabo recalls that Marilee expressed her contempt for him, coming to her house hoping for sex, when he hadn't contacted her in all those years. She recounted how men had raped, abused, and controlled her over the course of her life, including the full story of how Dan Gregory had pushed her down the stairs and had also beaten her after she made love to Rabo.

Rabo recalls how terrible he felt at Marilee's revelations. He remembers that Marilee asked him about his medals, some for his injury. She pointed out the injuries her female employees had received in the war, for which they received no medals. She went on to give him a scathing rebuke for his wartime sexual conquests, stating that women do whatever they can to survive, including providing sexual favors. Marilee believes that "the whole point of war is to put women in that condition. It's always men against women." Rabo felt ashamed and realized she was right. He recalls that she pointed out that only men would create weapons to bury in the ground, like the land mine that injured her servant, Lucrezia, while women would plant things for their usefulness or beauty, things that would grow. Rabo remembers that she relented only when she thought she had "reduced [him] to the level of self-esteem which men try to force on women." She then asked him to have tea, suggesting they might become friends once more.

Chapter 29

Rabo remembers that they he and Marilee were served tea by a woman with metal clamps instead of hands. Marilee said the woman's husband had forced her hands into boiling water to get her to identify the men she had slept with during the war. Rabo reflects that Marilee had been ahead of her time in identifying men as "not only useless and idiotic, but downright dangerous." He admired how Marilee survived the war to become a successful businesswoman, commenting "there's life in the old girl yet!"

Rabo recalls the story Marilee told him about how she came to Italy with Dan Gregory and Fred Jones. They were "treated like celebrities" and became propaganda tools for Mussolini. Marilee's late husband, Bruno, the Count Portomaggiore and Italian Minister of Culture, was a homosexual who married her at the orders of Mussolini to prove he wasn't gay. People thought the Count was silly and effeminate, but Bruno had really been the head of British Intelligence in Italy. Marilee told Rabo that she had been urged to accept the marriage proposal for the love of her country as it would place her in a position to pass information.

Analysis

Both Chapters 28 and 29 explore the theme of men versus women. The author reveals more about Marilee's past. It turns out that her relationship with Dan Gregory was not her first experience with an abusive man. She has been controlled, raped, and beaten by men throughout her life, as have the women she employs in her home. Each servant bears some type of disfigurement, either from abuse or from the war. Marilee recognizes these horrors of war as contributing to a war between the sexes. She argues that men pretend to fight with each other, but is really a ploy to keep women subservient and terrified. In Chapter 28, she notes that men get medals for fighting in war, but women's suffering and courage go without recognition. According to Marilee, men invent devices that destroy life, like the land mine that caused Marilee's servant, Lucrezia, to lose a leg and an eye. Women, in contrast, create life and beauty.

Ever resourceful and intelligent, Marilee manages to use her beauty and brains to learn Italian. She becomes a celebrity there and uses her connections through Dan Gregory to enter the elite circles in Italian government, where she makes friends with Count Portomaggiore and eventually marries him, thus securing his property, at least until her death. After the war, she goes on to become an art collector and businesswoman, someone in a position to help other women who have suffered as she has. Marilee is certainly a victim no longer.

Rabo says Marilee was ahead of her time in her views of men. Like some feminists who came years later, Marilee had already concluded that men are "dangerous." The author shows men as the aggressors and women as the victims of war but complicates that picture with Marilee's assertive commentary and Rabo's embarrassed response. Rabo's comment in Chapter 29 that "there is life in the old girl yet" is a comic understatement when readers consider the fate of Marilee's former abuser, Dan Gregory. He was killed by his own vanity, wearing a uniform during a time of war while painting the troops of his idol, Mussolini. Marilee, in contrast, lives fully. She learns Italian and becomes an art collector and businesswoman. Women may have been sexually exploited during the war, but Marilee is the one with all the power in these two chapters, announcing on Rabo's arrival that he won't even get to shake her hand. Readers begin to get the sense that that Vonnegut doesn't see men as necessarily the stronger or smarter sex.

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