God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Eliot Rosewater decides to use the fortune held by his family's foundation to continue helping the poor and less fortunate. He finds a town called Rosewater in Indiana and decides to do his work there. He explains to his wife:

"I look at these people, these Americans," Eliot went on, "and I realize that they can't even care about themselves any more—because they have no use. The factory, the farms, the mines across the river—they're almost completely automatic now. And America doesn't even need these people for war—not any more. Sylvia—I'm going to be an artist."

"An artist?"

"I'm going to love these discarded Americans, even though they're useless and unattractive. That is going to be my work of art."

This plan gives Mushari more fuel for his plot to prove Eliot is insane so that he can get control over the Rosewater fortune through Eliot's heir.

One side effect of Eliot's journey is that it breaks down the relationship he has with his wife. Eventually, she divorces him and moves back home and then enters a convent. When they're trying to reconcile, it worries Mushari. Vonnegut writes:

It was crucial to his plans that Sylvia not get pregnant by Eliot. A child in her womb would have an unbreakable claim to control of the Foundation, whether Eliot was crazy or not. And it was Mushari's dream that control should go to Eliot's second cousin, Fred Rosewater, in Pisquontuit, Rhode Island.

This foreshadows the end of the novel when Eliot claims more than fifty heirs from children who aren't his. Mushari would have been better off encouraging Eliot and Sylvia to reconcile.

As Eliot tries to help, he finds over and over that it doesn't always change things. It's difficult to find ways to be charitable that do a lot of good for people. They don't start working and being productive. Trout explains to him:

"In time, almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering, and probably medicine, too. So—if we can't find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out."

He means that it's best to care for people simply because—not because you want them to do something in society. He says that you have to love people who have no use and that what Eliot is doing in Rosewater—trying to care for the poor—is the most important social experiment. He says the horrors those people face will eventually be more prevalent around the world due to machines.

At the end of the novel, Eliot decides to lay claim to dozens of children who he isn't related to. He splits his fortune between them to the dismay of his father and the Foundation.

"Let their names be Rosewater from this moment on. And tell them that their father loves them, no matter what they may turn out to be. And tell them—" Eliot fell silent, raised his tennis racket as though it were a magic wand.

"And tell them," he began again, "to be fruitful and multiply."

People only believe the children are his because Mushari paid women to try to ruin Eliot's character. Ultimately, though, he finds his purpose in saying that they're his children and that they get his inheritance.

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