Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 34 35 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 34–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34

Rabo responds to Circe's questions about the contents of the potato barn by telling her only that what's in it is "eight feet high and sixty-four feet long." It is what used to be Windsor Blue Number-Seventeen, which he recovered from the basement of the GEFFCo headquarters in New York after an insurance inspector offered him the now blank canvases. Rabo says that he had expected to die first and leave instructions about the barn with Edith, but she died suddenly while gardening. At her burial, he had a "vision ... of human souls unencumbered ... by their unruly meat" like "innocent neon tubes." After the funeral he bought paint and said one word to the clerk: "Renaissance." He says that he lived and worked in the potato barn for six months. When he had finished, he locked up the barn, replaced the servants who had quit, and made his will. Rabo says that his two sons have done well in life.

Rabo agrees to show Circe what is in the barn when she accuses him of cowardice. They see the painting before them of a large, green valley with "five thousand, two hundred and nineteen people on the rim ... or down below," the largest of which was as big as "a cigarette, and the smallest a flyspeck." Rabo boasts it was "so realistic that it might have been a photograph." He tells Circe it is the scene of the green valley full of people that he witnessed at the end of World War II.

Chapter 35

Rabo says he now displays the painting to visitors as part of a tour of his collection. He has a story for every person in the painting, but he tires of relaying them to every visitor, encouraging them instead to make up their own stories. He offers to answer all of Circe's questions about the people in the painting. He identifies the person in the middle of the painting, on both sides of the crack between two of the canvases, as himself. The crack "might be taken to be the soul of Rabo Karabekian." He points out the few women in the painting to Circe, including some hiding in the basement of a home to avoid rape and the corpse of a gypsy women swollen in the sun with gems spilling from her mouth. He calls the setting of the painting "Happy Valley" and tells Circe the title of the painting is Now It's the Women's Turn, a title which is a revision of the original "I Tried and Failed and Cleaned Up Afterwards, so It's Your Turn Now."

Analysis

Chapters 34 and 35 include the climax of the novel. All of the events of the book lead to the moment when readers find out what is in the potato barn. Readers needed to know about Rabo's past in order to understand the painting in the barn. More than a realistic representation of the scene Rabo witnessed at the end of the war, the painting also incorporates other references to many important experiences in Rabo's life. Readers recognize the reference to his mother's story of the massacre of the Armenians in the gypsy's corpse, her mouth filled with jewels. Readers also see evidence of Rabo's philosophy of the body and soul. At Edith's funeral Rabo had a "vision" in which he experienced the souls of Edith and his friends who were buried nearby, as free and innocent, separated from the bodies which had encumbered them. In his painting, Rabo represents his own soul as the space running up his back, dividing his body and the two canvases.

The climax of Bluebeard unites the various views the novel has explored about art and life. This painting carries meaning, which Rabo keeps to himself mostly, but it also communicates information. In allowing Circe to see the painting, Rabo risks revealing his pain and his creativity—what might be called his soul—to another person, which bonds them and helps him alleviate his loneliness. It goes beyond the representational art of Rabo's youth to incorporate the emotion of his abstract expressionist paintings. The title of the piece, Now It's the Women's Turn, also recalls Marilee's rebuke of men after the war. In addition, Rabo creates the painting on the canvases that used to comprise Windsor Blue Number Seventeen, before the painting disintegrated due to the Rabo's use of Sateen Dura-Luxe. By doing so, he takes past losses and reworks them into something new and wonderful.

The author uses a single word to signal what painting Now It's the Women's Turn meant to Rabo, and that word is "renaissance," a word that means rebirth or renewal. Rabo returned to painting, but it was painting unlike he had ever done. His art was renewed, just as he began life anew following Edith's death. Another renaissance happens when Rabo shows the painting to Circe: they become friends. The old man, the lonely "gutshot iguana," makes a new friend in Circe Berman, opening up his life to her and revealing his thoughts and emotions like he opened the potato barn, something he never expected to do. The painting creates a renaissance in more way than one.

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