The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Eliot Rosewater

Eliot Rosewater, the forty-six-year-old president of the Rosewater Foundation. Eliot describes himself as “a drunkard, a Utopian dreamer, a tinhorn saint, an aimless fool.” The wealthy alcoholic, who has inherited millions of dollars, distributes money to the denizens of Rosewater, Indiana, as they telephone the Rosewater Foundation to ask for help. Eliot is certifiably insane and bumbles his way through life as the satirical figure of the liberal do-gooder. A member of the volunteer fire department, Eliot foils attempts by crooked lawyers to put an end to his unrequited generosity. He, a sexual eunuch, is accused erroneously of fathering fifty-seven illegitimate children in Rosewater. He absurdly claims them all as his own, thus ensuring the survival of the Rosewater Foundation with its fifty-seven heirs.

Sylvia Du Vrais Zetterling Rosewater

Sylvia Du Vrais Zetterling Rosewater, Eliot Rosewater’s wife. A Parisienne beauty who comes to hate Eliot, his ways, and his philanthropy, she sincerely tries to live in his world for some time but gives up both on loving Eliot and on living with him. She secures a divorce and goes to a nunnery in Belgium. Her continental manners and demeanor are unadaptable to the American Midwest and to Eliot in particular.

Norman Mushari

Norman Mushari, a shyster lawyer and the antagonist. Mushari, a graduate of Cornell Law School, seeks to...

(The entire section is 498 words.)