Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
Kurt Vonnegut’s timeless satirical novel centers on American greed and capitalism. He tells us in the first sentence that the main character is not Eliot Rosewater, or the omnipresent Kilgore Trout, but money. The plot vaguely focuses on the billion dollar corporate empire, The Rosewater Foundation, and how one lawyer by the name of Norman Mushari is attempting to prove that Eliot Rosewater is clinically insane and therefore unfit to control the company. The true plot of the novel is Eliot’s degeneration into charitable alcoholism – he decides to abandon his office job in Manhattan and move to Indiana to become an alcoholic therapist.
Eliot confesses to his estranged wife over the phone that he has found his true calling in life: helping people in the middle of nowhere who are worse off than himself.
“I’m going to love these discarded Americans, even though they’re useless and unattractive. That is going to be my work of art.”
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the Rosewater Foundation flounders without its symbolic leader and Norman Mushari’s greedy fingers quickly conjure up all the necessary documents to prove his case in court. In this way, Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel combines social satire and philosophy to breach the foundations of American ideals. For example, in one of my favorite parts of the book, Mushari reads a copy of one of Kilgore Trout’s latest novels about the future of America, where every human worker has been replaced by a machine. People become unnecessary and the government sets up “patriotic” suicide machines to help rid the country of the useless populous. One character asks before jumping into the machine:
What in the hell are people for?
Image Source: Vonnegut Library