Bluebeard | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Bluebeard | Chapters 6–7 | Summary



Chapter 6

After the tale of Bluebeard in the previous chapter, Rabo jokes that there are no bodies of his former wives in the barn. He recalls that he was gifted at drawing in his youth, but that his parents were skeptical of such a career path until his mother read about a wealthy American artist named Dan Gregory, born an Armenian in Russia with the surname of Gregorian. Rabo's mother suggested he write to Dan Gregory in hopes of building a relationship that would yield career opportunities. He received a reply from Marilee Kemp, posing as Dan Gregory's assistant although she was really his 21-year-old mistress. Before she died, Rabo's mother was confident her scheme was a success because Rabo receives much praise for his work, although it comes from Marilee, not Gregory. Marilee would go on to be sent by Gregory to Switzerland for an abortion, then later become an Italian countess and notable art collector. Rabo says Circe has read all 78 letters he saved from Marilee, and she thinks the writing is exceptional, especially for a coal miner's daughter who only attended one year of high school.

Chapter 7

Rabo's father lost their savings and the building that housed his cobbler's shop in a bank collapse. Rabo notes how the letters from Marilee were like bonds or securities that would someday pay off and enable him to care for his father. He shares the memory of finding his father rereading Marilee's letters. His father's shrewd assessment was that Marilee had nothing to offer Rabo and did not actually represent Dan Gregory. He equates her to Vartan Mamigonian who conned the family out of their money. As proof, he points to some books illustrated by Gregory that Marilee had sent Rabo and complains that Gregory did not sign them or even include a note of encouragement. At the time Rabo agreed with his father's assessment but remained grateful to Marilee, who also sent him art supplies. Nevertheless, he let their correspondence slide. While still a teenager in school, Rabo got a job as a political cartoonist for a local paper and later received a telegram from Gregory offering him a job as his apprentice.

Rabo kept Marilee's letters and had them bound in a book. Circe tells him that Marilee's writing improves over the course of her correspondence with him and it must have been having Rabo as an audience of one that inspired her to get better. Circe says she writes for her husband, Abe, only that which he would find "interesting and truthful." Rabo recalls something strange he noticed about his father, who found his own artistic niche making decorated cowboy boots. He went into something like a trance as he made them. It is the same type of expression Rabo saw on the face of his friend Terry Kitchen, an abstract expressionist painter. Rabo says the detached look, as if "there wasn't anybody home anymore," is creepy.


Chapters 6 and 7 introduce the characters of Marilee Kemp and Dan Gregory, two people who will prove to be influential in the course of Rabo's life. Marilee, born in modest circumstances with little education, is a resourceful survivor. She manages to convince Rabo, at least for a time, that she is Gregory's assistant. She is really his 21-year-old mistress and sometime model, whom he often physically abuses. The glimpse Rabo offers readers of Marilee's glamorous future as an Italian countess , art collector, and "the biggest Sony distributor in Europe," shows just how good she is at making her own way in the world. The attention she gives Rabo, writing him dozens of letters and sending him art supplies and books, shows readers she has affection for him.

Dan Gregory, born in Russia with the Armenian name Gregorian, represents the fulfillment of the American Dream to Rabo and his parents. In the wake of his mother's death and their bank's collapse, Rabo's father's hopes have all been dashed. Gregory's success offers a glimmer of hope about which Rabo's father is skeptical. Readers get a hint that, although successful and wealthy, there is a dark side to Gregory, although young Rabo does not know that yet. Rabo later discovers that Gregory kept Marilee isolated "as a pet around the house," and "used to hit and kick her a lot." Rabo had lost any confidence in Marilee's promises on Gregory's behalf, agreeing with his father that she was not in a position to offer him much, so the arrival of the letter was a surprise. It is a surprise to readers, too, coming at the very end of Chapter 7 without explanation. It is everything for which Rabo and his family had hoped, an opportunity to study under the best illustrator in the country, all expenses paid. It is Rabos's big break, but its sudden appearance of the mysterious offer makes it seem ominous.

In Chapter 7, the author introduces the idea of the role of audience in art. Circe is of the opinion that a writer's best work is done when written for an audience of one. She writes for her late husband, including only what she thinks he would find "interesting and truthful." It is what she thinks makes her books so successful. She believes Marilee's writing improves so much because she wrote with Rabo in mind the same way. Her desire to communicate to him led her to refine her writing talent. In Circe's opinion, audience shapes art. She believe she and Marilee are examples how this reliance on audience leads to higher quality art. Her judgment about the role of audience in her own form of art, writing, parallels her judgment of the role of audience in visual art, in which the audience receives information that the artwork conveys. However, this is just one role that audience plays in art. Alternatives will come up as the novel progresses.

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