Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 32–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 32

Rabo remembers how unhappy Dorothy was about the amount of money he spent on buying the other painters suits and renting the potato barn on Long Island. Rabo also recalls a "fateful" trip he and Kitchen took in a truck he rented to move his collection of paintings into storage. Rabo remembers the conversation he had with Kitchen on the drive. Rabo had said that he regretted the mistakes made by his "meat," and distinguished his "meat" from his soul. He explained his visualization of souls as beams of light. He said if he could strip away the meat from a person to see their soul, it was easy to forgive them. Rabo recalls that Kitchen spoke of his own father and expressed the hope that he would never beat his father at anything. Rabo says Kitchen would later shoot his father while Kitchen was drunk. He then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide in horror at what he had done. Rabo recalls that it was on that trip with Kitchen that he had first met Edith, who was carrying a tamed raccoon to which she later compared Rabo.

On her last night at Rabo's house before she returns to Baltimore, Circe wants to go dancing, but Rabo takes her to dinner instead. He suggests they will become friends when she persuades him to show her what is in the potato barn.

Chapter 33

Circe asks Rabo to draw something to prove he is good at it. Rabo recalls that his first wife had made the same challenge to him. He responded by quickly sketching portraits of his two sons on the walls. Dorothy cut the portraits out of the walls and took them when she moved out. He tells Circe that after Dorothy and the kids left, and Kitchen and Pollock killed themselves, he felt like his father felt after the massacre of his village. Rabo recalls that once Slazinger had also questioned his ability to draw, and Rabo demonstrated by using dust from the floor to sketch with his thumbs a perfect likeness of Slazinger in a few seconds on a nearby canvas. Rabo remembers that he painted over the sketch. Years later, when the Sateen Dura-Luxe paint fell off the canvas, a curator recognized Slazinger's face because she used to date him. Rabo says he had offered to replace all of his paintings when they were ruined by Sateen Dura-Luxe, but no one took him up on it.

Analysis

In Chapter 32, the author explores the duality of the body and the spirit, what Rabo calls his "meat" and his "soul." The dichotomy between the physical body and the mind or spirit is an idea that dates back to the ancient Greeks. Rabo's use of the word soul recalls the later Christian dualism of St. Augustine who wrote about the difference between eternal souls and the bodies in which they reside. Religious dualism views the body as evil and prone to sin, something the soul must strive to overcome. This seems to be the type of dualism behind Rabo's comment that his soul knows when his meat is doing something wrong. He finds it difficult to overcome his meat, and he hopes he won't be judged by what it does. Rabo finds that he is better able to forgive others when he views them without their meat, as souls he imagines as pure beams of light.

Chapter 33 describes examples of Rabo's art, both representational and abstract expressionist. Different people value Rabo's art depending on whether it reflects what they feel art should be or do. Like Slazinger, Rabo's wife Dorothy questioned his ability to draw as a way of demonstrating her contempt for his abstract expressionist paintings, which she thought he painted because he could not draw anything realistic. The quick sketches of his sons impress Dorothy because they are so accurate. She values them enough to cut them out of the wall when she leaves with the children. Slazinger, too, is impressed by the sketch Rabo does of him, using only his thumbs in the dust. The art curator who happened upon the portrait of Slazinger, once the paint dropped away from the canvas, immediately recognized the face of the man she used to date. Rabo was that good. His larger works were disparaged by Dorothy, but readers know that some of them sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Rabo even views his two art styles differently. He doesn't think he was the best artist in either style, but he acknowledges his skill as a draftsman. Drawing realistically didn't interest him anymore though.

Bluebeard displays Vonnegut's characteristic wit, which often meets violence, loss, and trauma, whether personal or global, with a dark, biting sense of humor. The disintegration of Rabo's paintings is a good example. As tragic as it is, Rabo himself doesn't hesitate to play it for laughs, creating an imaginary dictionary definition for "karabekian" ("Fiasco in which a person causes total destruction of own work and reputation through stupidity, carelessness, or both"). This is a mournful, self-deprecating, and very funny response to a tragic loss. Such a humorous approach to a traumatic event may seem flip or even evasive on Rabo's part, but the pain underlying his joke is still real and inescapable. As many characters note throughout the novel, perhaps taking things seriously is overrated, but this doesn't mean Vonnegut favors not taking issues like war, destruction, and death or the meaning of art seriously. Vonnegut is simply not in favor of anything that gets in the way of the spirit of playfulness and wonder that he clearly values.

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