God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut tells the story of a man who wants to help the less fortunate and another man who wants to gain control of his employer's fortune.
Eliot Rosewater is a veteran and the head of the Rosewater foundation, which oversees millions used for charitable donations and helping people. He decides to go out into America and meet people, view small towns, and try to figure out how to help people more. He ends up in Rosewater, Indiana, and decides that he'll help those people.
Meanwhile, Norman Mushari, a lawyer for the Rosewater Foundation, is scheming to prove that Eliot is insane so that the money goes to his heir, Fred. Mushari believes he can control Fred and profit from this. He tracks Eliot, recording his conversations and saving his letters. Eventually, he pays people in Rosewater to say negative things about him. His actions become obvious to Lister, Eliot, and their lawyer; Mushari is unsuccessful in his gambit.
Eliot's plans enrage his father and distress his wife. Sylvia eventually divorces him, returns to Paris, and eventually enters a nunnery in Belgium where she's not allowed to speak. Eliot spends a year in a mental institution and is visited by his favorite science fiction author, Kilgore Trout. Trout explains that the things Eliot is doing are good things even if they don't make a great impact. He says that it's important to care about people simply because they are people. He helps show Eliot's father, Senator Lister Rosewater, that Eliot isn't insane. This helps Eliot keep control of the Foundation.
Ultimately Eliot claims all the fatherless children in Rosewater as his own children. They'll receive his inheritance. He gets the idea from Mushari having women pretend Eliot fathered their children. His father is trying to defend him and proves the first woman who said Eliot fathered her children was lying—but Eliot doesn't care about their genetics. Eliot says to let the children he's claimed know that he loves them no matter what they grow up to be.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: Or, Pearls Before Swine is the story of a multimillionaire who, traumatized by a wartime experience, tries to compensate with philanthropy and by treating the underprivileged with kindness. He seeks to enact the slogan, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind,” which some have seen as the essence of Vonnegut. This proves to be difficult and complicated, however, in a society that equates riches with merit and morality, and poverty with sloth and undeservingness. Eliot Rosewater’s egalitarian efforts cause universal doubt about his sanity, drive his wife to a breakdown, infuriate his father to the point of obsession, and eventually lead to his own mental collapse.
Vonnegut writes that a sum of money, the Rosewater fortune, is the central character of the novel. The distribution of wealth and its social and psychological consequences is certainly the novel’s central theme. One can see the impact on Vonnegut’s life of the Great Depression behind this novel. Through prolonged unemployment, his father became purposeless and reclusive, while his mother could not live in the style in which she had been raised, and she was anguished to the point of suicide.
A second major theme of this book is neurosis. Almost every character suffers some degree of mental affliction, often accompanied or caused by physical malaise. The craziness contributes to both the poignancy that occurs in this novel and the humor that dominates it, but through the wacky characters and events, Vonnegut examines troubling social issues that he sees pervading America: excessive wealth alongside dire poverty; attitudes that make the poor despised, even by themselves; purposelessness, bred alike by unemployment and unearned riches; and the loneliness, depression, and suicidal complexes...
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