Eliot Rosewater, the protagonist, is clearly meant to be a positive figure, yet he, like the other characters, is still a target for Vonnegut’s satire. Thus, his love for the wretched of the earth often appears to be perfunctory, and he is presented as being physically ridiculous—all puffy and pasty, mostly bald, an athlete gone to lard who seldom washes, sleeps in his long underwear, and drinks a lot of Southern Comfort and Rosewater Golden Lager Ambrosia Beer. Still, there is perhaps something endearing in this description, and the reader is obliged to love Eliot for his adoration of volunteer firemen. During his bad drinking days, he once traded clothes with a fireman in New Egypt, New Jersey—his four-hundred-dollar suit for a double-breasted chalk-stripe with the creases in the trousers permanently sewed in. “I want to look like you,” said Eliot. “You’re the salt of the earth.” There is something of Vonnegut in Eliot (Vonnegut was once a volunteer fireman, and he was born in Indiana, though in Indianapolis).
If Eliot finally seems to have failed in his effort to give dignity to the poor people of Rosewater County, one must consider Kilgore Trout’s observation on the matter. He says first that the main lesson Eliot learned “is that people can use all the uncritical love they can get.” Eliot was able to give such love over a long period of time, and “if one man can do it, perhaps others can do it, too.” Thus, a genuinely positive idea (though some might call it sentimental) is at work in the novel to balance the negatively directed satire.
Trout is first...
(The entire section is 659 words.)