Discuss a few examples in which people understand what Chance says according to their own agendas in Being There. (You might also discuss the role that television and the garden play in the story.)  

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Being There is a brilliant satire that makes humorous use of ideas similar to those expounded by twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger in his book Being in Time. In this work Heidegger contends that every human is a being in the world who finds reference to other humans. That is, he is influenced by social surroundings and pays attention to what others do and say. If a person willingly accepts all that the others do and say, then he is inauthentic; however, if he pays attention to influences and decides himself whether to accept them or not, then he is authentic.

In Being There Jerry Kosinski points to the inauthentic quality of most people, even those whose minds are well-respected, because they allow themselves to be influenced by their social surroundings, and they often attribute to a speaker more than is there. Here are some examples of how characters in this novel interpret what Chance says according to their own way of thinking, attributing more to him than he deserves:

  • Chance's remarks are considered metaphoric when he speaks at dinner with Ben and Eve and the physician.

When Chance speaks to industrialist Ben Rand at dinner, Chance says that the "Old man died" and his house was "shut down and closed by the attorneys." While Chance means this literally and simply, Rand thinks that Chance speaks of a man's business as metaphorically closed because he died and the company was at the mercy of "kid lawyers from the SEC" (the Securities and Exchange Commission of the U.S. Government).

When Chance says, "All I have left is the room upstairs," Ben thinks that Chance speaks of heaven as the "room upstairs." He tells Chance that he should not speak so; he is the one that will soon visit the room upstairs: "That is where I'm going."

Then, when Chance speaks of being a gardener, Ben Rand believes that his guest alludes to Voltaire, whose character Candide concludes after all his terrible adventures, "...we must cultivate our garden." This statement means that man cannot understand the evil and the complexities of the world, so he should find support in work--tend his own "garden," or his own life.

When Chance says he is a "good gardener," Ben continues what he believes is the metaphor of Voltaire. He asks rhetorically,

"Isn't that what any businessman is? A 'gardener'? He works on flinty soil to make it productive; he waters it with the sweat of his brow. He makes a thing of value with his own hands."

Later, Ben puts his arm around Chance and tells him, "You don't play games with words to protect yourself," believing Chance to be simplistic and straightforward after he has told the president that he looks "smaller" on television.

  • Chance's naive innocence is mistaken for wisdom

When the president and Ben discuss economics, the president bemoans the economic state of the nation. At that time Chance mentions all the seasons, then adds, "As long as the roots are not severed, all will be well." Thinking Chance uses metaphors, Rand interprets,

"We welcome the seasons of nature, but we are upset by the seasons of our economy."

The president adds that Chance has spoken one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements he has heard. "I admire your good, solid sense," he tells Chance.

Later, when some of Chance's meetings are caught by the news media, he is credited with deceptive simplicity. Listening to Chance at a bar, one of the two lawyers who have turned him out of the house remarks,

"Very clever keeping it at a 3rd grade level--that's what they understand."

Of course, the only reason Chance knows how to speak and act at all is the fact that he has watched so much television. He imitates what he has seen. Clearly, his mannerisms and some of his thoughts are mere mimicking of what he has heard or seen. For instance, when he is asked if he will go on the Gary Burden show, Chance replies, "Yes...I've been on television," recalling the outside television display where he saw himself at the shop window. So blurred are the lines between television and reality for Chance that he tries to shut off people in real life with his remote control.

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