Friday, January 15, 2016

"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" by Kurt Vonnegut

“Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse

When I learned that “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater” by Kurt Vonnegut had been banned I knew I had to read it. This thought-provoking satirical novel bristles with social commentary.

 Inspired by the stories of a visionary speculative fiction writer Eliot Rosewater, a millionaire, decides to invest time and money in helping anyone who asks for help. He believes that love is what everybody needs, so he is willing to be loyal to his ideal. Mr. Eliot Rosewater was also an alcoholic.
 “And Eliot Rosewater became a drunkard, a utopian dreamer, a tinhorn saint, an aimless fool.”

 Before he decided to devote his life to helping others he tried psychoanalysis, but his therapist gave up on him because he considered him untreatable.
I ask him what he dreams about and he tells me Samuel Gompers, Mark Twain and Alexander Hamilton. I ask him if his father ever appears in his dreams and he says ‘No, but Thorstein Veblen often does.’”

  Despite Eliot’s humility and well-intentioned motives he was harshly criticized. A greedy lawyer called Norman Mushari wanted to prove that Eliot Rosewater was insane to take advantage of his wealth.
 “The more Mushari rifled the firm’s confidential files relative to the Rosewater Foundation, the more excited he became. Especially thrilling to him was the part of the charter which called for the immediate expulsion of any officer adjudged insane. It was common gossip in the office that the very first president of the Foundation, Eliot Rosewater, the Senator’s son, was a lunatic. The characterization was a somewhat playful one, but as Mushari knew, playfulness was impossible to explain in a court of law.  Eliot was spoken of by Mushari’s co-workers as “the Nut”, “The Saint”, “The Holy Rotter”, “John the Baptist”, and so on.

 I can’t deny that the cynical aspects of the book can make the read hard to bear. Yet I believe that there is foresight in this story. Kurt Vonnegut was able to anticipate the submission of humanity to mindless technology and wars, as you may conclude from this insightful quote:
“In time almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering and probably medicine, too. So -- if we can’t find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out.”

 Eliot Rosewater’s father, a Republican Senator, was ashamed and embarrassed. He compared his son’s universal love to toilet paper.

 Why was this book banned and ignored?

I don’t know. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Eliot Rosewater was kind without being religious. It may also be related to comments that defy the status quo. This one, for instance:
Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up…”

Read this novel yourself and draw your own conclusions.

It was interesting to start reading “The American Way of Poverty” by Sasha Abramsky after I finished “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater”. This non-fiction book helps us to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between Vonnegut’s fiction and reality.