Literature Study GuidesBluebeardChapters 36 37 Summary

Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 36–37 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 36

Circe comments on all the uniforms in the painting, and Rabo reflects that his neighbor, Big John, had been happy to see his son, Little John, in uniform, but Little John was killed in Vietnam. Rabo says his own father didn't live to see him in uniform, which is good because the uniform would have only reminded his father of the soldiers who massacred his entire town.

Rabo tells Circe he is leaving everything he owns to his two sons, provided they change their names back to Karabekian. He says this stipulation is to honor his mother's wishes that the name continue. Circe objects to his desire to leave the painting to his sons because she thinks they won't appreciate its significance. Rabo compares its importance to a car crash, saying "something as sure as hell has happened."

He points out the important people in his life that he included in the painting like Pollock and Kitchen. He tells Circe that he became a hermit for eight years after the two committed suicide. He says abstract expressionist paintings are about "the pure essence of human wonder." Rabo shows Circe, with a magnifying glass, where to find the date he has hidden in the painting which is May 8, 1945, the day he woke up on the rim of the green valley. He feels satisfied with his painting, which he says "looks like a million bucks."

Chapter 37

As Circe and Rabo leave the barn, they hold hands, and Circe says, "We're dancing now." Rabo says they felt "postcoital." Rabo comments that he has experienced resurrection twice. Once Edith brought him back to life after his friend Kitchen died, and then Circe brought him back to life after Edith died. Circe tells Rabo that she uses work and her brash manner of speaking to avoid grief for her late husband.

Circe and Rabo talk about what bodies can accomplish. Circe points out that Rabo's "meat" made his painting. Rabo agrees, saying his soul didn't know what to paint. Circe thinks it is time for Rabo to stop being ashamed of his meat and to thank it for what it has created. Rabo does as she suggests: "Oh, happy meat. Oh, happy Soul. Oh, happy Rabo Karabekian." He concludes the book with a dedication: "This book is for Circe Berman. What else can I say. R.K."

Analysis

In Chapter 36 the author offers a final critique of war. The uniforms worn by soldiers, although an initial source of pride and hope, actually signify death and destruction. Big John comes to realize this after his son is killed in Vietnam. Rabo's father recognized the terrible message of soldiers' uniforms because of what he had seen those soldiers do to his village. Rabo is glad his father never had to see him in uniform because his father would have called him a murderer.

As Circe points out, in creating Now it's the Women's Turn, Rabo's body has done something of which he can be proud. He needn't be ashamed of what his body has done in this case, nor does he need to overcome its inclinations. On the contrary, Rabo says his hands knew what to paint when his soul did not. She suggests that Rabo allow his soul, "which has been ashamed of his meat for so long" to thank his meat for what it's created. In this way, Rabo's memories, his mind, his meat, and his soul are united by his painting. Rabo is unified, and he is happy. The relationship of Rabo and Circe, platonic as it may be, is consummated in the barn that night. The closeness they feel to each other after sharing the painting is described as "postcoital." They achieve an intimacy and understanding, a true friendship.

Rabo's masterpiece satisfies the requirements of the different views of art represented by the opinions of various characters in the book. Rabo says it is as realistic as any painting by Dan Gregory, as realistic as a photograph even. Circe appreciates the representational nature of the painting and that it communicates vast amounts of information. Rabo lost himself in making the painting for six months, and he understands all the personal meaning it carries, even that which is not self-evident to the painting's audience. The painting is also emotive in a way that is not dissimilar to abstract expressionist art, full of "human wonder." It contains death and life, grief and joy, fear and hope. It has soul.

The author brings Rabo's life full circle in the final two chapters. He wishes to leave everything to his children, including the Armenian legacy of his parents in the name Karabekian. The painting represents this legacy. With the painting, Rabo is leaving them his life.

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