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Effective Satire in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Satire is a technique used in literature to criticize the faults of society. An excellent examle of contemporary satire is Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The author tells the life of Eliot Rosewater, a young and affluent man troubled by the plights of the poor. Eliot is the President of the Rosewater Foundation, a sum of money worth approximately $87 million. Using this position, he does everything he can to help the poor. This charity giving is socially unacceptable to the wealthy, particularly Eliot's father Senator Lister Ames Rosewater. Vonnegut uses caricature, irony, and tone to satirize the lack of care the rich have for those socially "beneath them."
Vonnegut satirized the rich by exaggerating prominent features to portraying Senator Rosewater as a snob. He is characterized as heartless, shallow, and mean; seems to care only about his family name and public image. Senator Rosewater has no pity for the poor in his heart, "I have spent my life demanding that people blame themselves for their misfortunes." (62) The most evident flaw of Eliot's father is how he worries what people will think of him. When Eliot first opens the Rosewater Foundation and gives out money to those in need, Senator leaves him alone - to do as he chooses. However, when the young and unlearned lawyer Norman Mushari begins trying to prove Eliot insane and to shift the money to Fred Rosewater, a distant relative in Rhode Island, Senator crusades to prove the opposite. Everyone is asked, even Eliot's ex-wife Sylvia DuVrais Zetterling, for proof. Senator Lister Rosewater simply brushes aside Sylvia's pain to question her. "'What did he seem like there in Paris?' the Senator wanted to know. 'Did he seem sane enough to you then?'" (64) Senator goes to the small town of Rosewater, Indiana, where Eliot is living and meets with him. Worried by what he sees, Senator plots with attorney Thurmond McAllister to make the jury believe Eliot is fit and able. Senator only cares about Eliot when the family name is endangered. Another hideous aspect of the Senator's personality is his cruelty towards his son. He disapproves of
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."..that drunk gypsy I call son...Every time I'm forced to look at him I think to myself, 'What a staging area for a typhoid epidemic!' Don't try to spare my feelings, Sylvia. My son doesn't deserve a decent women. He deserves what he's got, the sniveling camaraderie of whores, malingerers, pimps and thieves." (53)
This has no hint of paternal compassion. These attributes of Senator Rosewater are exaggerated to satirize the lack the wealthy feel.
Vonnegut ridicules the rich's arrogance by using situational irony. Situational irony is when what occurs is the opposite from what is expected. This happens in relevance to how the affluent people perceive their popularity. Rich people think that since they are sophisticated, refined and knowledgeable - people must like them. In truth, men and women of the upper class tend to look down on the others, and believe that they will always be perfect people. "' He's got fiber, he's got spine,' the Senator said. 'He's experimenting. He'll come back to his senses anytime he's good and ready. This family never produced and never will produce a chronic drunk or a chronic lunatic.'" (24) Therefore, the lower classes despise the rich, and Eliot tries to explain why to his father: ."..it's a heartless government that will let one baby be born owning a big piece of land, the way I was born, and another baby born without owning anything." (88) Although Eliot is wealthy and people are happy for the financial aid, it was the compassion he shows for them that made them love him so. Those down trodden men and women did not care that Eliot is,
"an athlete gone to lard, a big man, six-feet-three, two hundred thirty pounds, pale, balding on all sides of a wispy scalplock. He was swaddled in the elephant wrinkles on war-surplus long underwear." (49)
This sloppy appearance embarrassed snobbish Senator Rosewater. It was not money, as the wealthy thought, that made Eliot so popular and loved, but the care and understanding he gave to people - a clear example of situational irony.
Vonnegut uses tone to complete the picture of the affluent's cruelties and how nauseating they exploit their power. The tone, or overall feeling the author is trying to impart, of this novel is disgust. Disgust at how greedy people are, how heartless the rich are, and how cruel humans really can be. Greediness is shown mainly with Norman Mushari's interest in the Foundation. He takes advantage of the poverty of Fred Rosewater and tries to exploit this for a personal gain. The story of his Professor Leonard Leech and the good advice that he gave about how "the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient's blubbering thanks" (9) is abominable and shocks the readers at how one person could be entirely rotten. However, his plan backfires and the money remains within the Indiana side of the family. This minor plot is strung throughout the story to invoke feelings of abhoration towards Mushari. Vonnegut used his syntax to show readers the lack of care and selfishness of the rich. Words such as, "depressing" when referring to Eliot's clothes; "a buzzard feast, a buzzard feast" talking about the Rhode Island Rosewaters; and the description of what Senator believes Eliot's clients are: "criminals." All of this contributes to the disguist and disappointment in the ruling and wealthy class - the overall tone of this book.
All of these ways of satire come together in the last chapter to show that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Vonnegut uses his novel to criticize the lack of care the rich have for those socially "beneath them." They are rude and heartless because they see no benefits in it, no immediate rewards. However, Eliot does. He understands that human beings must be nice and care towards one another. Although he returns to sophistication in the end, he continues with his principles of helping the poor - by adapting all of the children of Rosewater. This is the perfect solution to their problem, since now there are heirs to the control of the Rosewater Foundation and all of those down trodden children are provided for. By caricaturing Senator Rosewater, using situational irony to make compassion more popular than money, and describing the mood as disgusting - Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is a complete satire of the lack of emotions the affluent have for the poor.