Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Kosinki’s third novel, Being There, is a fable about a perfect language, one that captivates the listener while revealing nothing of the identity of the speaker. The book, Kosinski’s shortest, continues his analysis of the embryonic writer testing one new language after another until he discovers the one that both ends his victimization and confers power. Chance, the protagonist, is a simpleminded gardener at a rich man’s house. The garden is a refuge: “It was safe and secure in the garden, which was separated from the street by a high, red brick wall.” Chance has no self-consciousness and has spent his life watching television. He has no concept of a reality outside his garden and the safe confines of the television tube. Yet he is handsome and well-dressed (with the suits from his now-dead benefactor), and when he is cast out of his garden, he is slightly injured by a limousine carrying a wealthy woman, EE, who befriends him.
Assuming that Chance is as intelligent as he is handsome, EE brings him to her home and introduces him to her husband, the industrial magnate Benjamin Rand, who is slowly dying. All Chance can talk of is the world of his garden, but his statements seem somehow incisive—even prophetic—to his eager listeners. Soon he is the guest of the president of the United States and becomes a talk-show celebrity, and at the book’s end he is being considered as a vice-presidential candidate. This implausible and amusing...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Chance tends the garden in the house of the Old Man, where he has lived for as long as he can remember. His mother died in childbirth and his father was unknown, and, although there is no record of any arrangement, the Old Man took him in. Chance never had any real contact with the Old Man, however, especially during his later years, when he was bedridden. Chance is cared for by the maid of the house, but he needs very little: whatever time he does not spend in the garden he spends in front of the television, which is his major source of information about the world. He is illiterate, but gains whatever education and manners and knowledge of social behavior he has from the programs he watches on television.
When the Old Man suddenly dies, Chance is turned out of the house by Thomas Franklin, the lawyer in charge of the estate, who can find no record of Chance’s existence. Bewildered by being in the outside world for the first time, he walks aimlessly in the street and is unable to avoid being hit by the limousine of Elizabeth Eve Rand when it backs toward him. Chance is not seriously hurt, but Elizabeth and her chauffeur are concerned and take him to the Rands’ house to have him checked out thoroughly. She introduces herself as EE, and as he fumblingly explains that he is Chance, the gardener, she mishears this as Chauncey Gardiner, the name by which he is referred to from that point on.
Chance settles in to his new home very quickly, as both EE and Mr. Rand become very attached to him. EE finds him charming because, although he is simple and utterly without experience or intelligence, he perfectly mimes the behavior of characters he has seen on television. Mr. Rand, the shrewd and powerful chairman of the board of the First American Financial Corporation, is equally charmed by Chance and also impressed by what he takes to be his deep insights into the contemporary economic crisis. Rand interprets his trite mundane and literal comments about plants,...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bruss, Paul. Victims: Textual Strategies in Recent American Fiction. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981.
Fein, Richard J. “Jerzy Kosinski.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by James Vinson. London: St. James Press, 1976.
Lavers, Norman. Jerzy Kosinski. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Lilly, Paul R., Jr. Words in Search of Victims: The Achievement of Jerzy Kosinski. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1988.
Sloan, James Park. Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography. New York: Dutton, 1996.
Tepa Lupack, Barbara, ed. Critical Essays on Jerzy Kosinski. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998.