Child, Dead, in the Rose Garden Summary
by E. L. Doctorow

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Child, Dead, in the Rose Garden Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The narrator of “Child, Dead, in the Rose Garden” is Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent Brian W. Molloy. The morning after a White House concert, a sixty-year-old groundskeeper discovers the shrouded body of a young boy. Hysteria in the post-September 11 world leads to his detention as a terrorist, until his daughter (a lawyer at the Treasury Department) files a missing person report. Probably no further investigation would have been conducted, but the Washington, D.C., police and the Post receive letters informing them about the boy.

As Molloy investigates, he quickly encounters officials who want the case ignored. Using his own time and money, Molloy follows a lead to Utilicon, a Southwestern power company headquartered in Beauregard, Texas. There he learns that the boy, Roberto Guzman, died of an incurable disease caused by environmental pollution from Utilicon. Roberto’s father, a gardener at Utilicon, has been detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and is scheduled for deportation.

Clearly someone wants to draw public attention to the dangerous pollution, and Molloy quickly discovers that Christina Stevens (daughter of Utilicon’s chairman) and her boyfriend, a Marine assigned to the White House, are responsible for placing Roberto’s body in the Rose Garden. As a result, Christina has been confined to a private mental hospital and fed a diet of tranquilizers.

Realizing that he is essentially powerless, Molloy nonetheless calls the government official and quietly informs him that unless the Guzmans are allowed to return to their home, the story will quickly be distributed to the media. This action marks the end of his career; so, as the story ends, Molloy has just written his letter of resignation.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Weber, Richard. “E. L. Doctorow: Myth Maker.” The New York Times Magazine, October 20, 1985, 25-26, 42-43, 74-77.