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Bluebeard is the fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters, who first appeared in Breakfast of Champions. As Rabo writes his autobiography, readers learn about his background. Rabo was born in San Ignacio, California, where he and his parents were the only Armenians.

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At a young age, Rabo showed considerable skill as an artist, and many people who viewed his work were convinced of his potential. However, his parents were skeptical about a career in the arts, as they believed that artists were always poor and were only truly appreciated after their deaths. Despite their reservations, Rabo persisted with his drawing, and eventually his parents grudgingly admitted to his talent. Rabo then began apprenticing with a famous New York City artist named Dan Gregory. Under Gregory's tutelage, Rabo becomes an artist of considerable skill—sketching with photorealistic detail as Gregory does—but Gregory tells Rabo that his work lacks real soul, and Rabo agrees.

After Rabo and Gregory eventually parted ways, Rabo has difficulty finding work, but eventually he is hired by another Armenian at an advertising agency. However, his burgeoning career is suspended when he joins the army to fight in World War II. During his last year in service, he loses one of his eyes in battle.

After Rabo's traumatic experiences in the war, he begins working as an insurance salesman and gets married.He has two children, both of which are boys. He eventually begins painting again and grows obsessed with it. He becomes involved in the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York City and paints many large, abstract pieces. Unlike other abstract artists, Rabo is able to gain a living from his work, and he often loans other artists money in return for their paintings. From this, he accrues a large collection of abstract expressionist artwork. While he steadfastly maintains his endeavor to create art, he is beset by doubts as to his ability to create meaningful abstract works. Despite his monetary success, he is convinced that his works still lack soul, an opinion that he consistently sustains throughout his artistic career.

However, his obsession with art proves to be too much for his family, and his wife and sons leave him. He later remarries and has a steady and loving relationship with his second wife, but she eventually dies, leaving him bereft. After her death, Rabo draws into himself; he locks himself in the potato barn and becomes a hermit for several months, treating the potato barn as his art studio. After his eventual emergence from the barn, he boards it up and refuses to grant anyone else access.

As he writes his autobiography, Rabo is living with his cook and her daughter. One day, he sees a woman on his private beach and approaches her. Her name is Circe Berman, and after the two converse, Rabo invites her to stay with him. However, he soon realizes that she is manipulative, and he grows increasingly annoyed with her probing questions about every aspect of his home.

Rabo initially does not allow her to go into the potato barn despite her numerous entreaties. He is consistently secretive about what it contains, and as a result, the art community is intrigued, and the mysterious nature of the art causes the potential bids for it to climb higher and higher. Berman is eventually able to build up enough trust with Rabo to convince him to open the potato barn and show her the painting within, which is revealed to be his magnificent and enormous magum opus.

Summary

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Bluebeard is Kurt Vonnegut’s most extensive examination of artistic endeavor, namely painting by abstract expressionists, but in reality all artistic activity, including literature. Although precursors of this artistic meditation are elements of earlier works, including the questioning of the truth-telling capacity of literature in Cat’s Cradle ,...

(The entire section contains 1099 words.)

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