A Personal Non-Literary Review of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Dial Press Cover

I am much too late in the game here but I would like to review a novel from 1965. In my defence, the novel is just as relevant now as it was when it came out. According to my interpretation at least.

In a 1973 interview with Playboy, Kurt Vonnegut was asked the following question:

“Beyond the fact that it’s become a profitable way to make a living, why do you write?”

To which Vonnegut replied,

“My motives are political.”

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is more than anything, a political argument in the form of a rather depressing story. Incidentally, the endless depth of the characters, and the justice spoken between the lines make this novel a beautifully depressing masterpiece.

Capitalism has had its run. We have seen the effects of its application; the massive increase in wealth of the few, and the hands of the many left unfed. This is one of the main issues Vonnegut tackles in this novel.

The Rosewater family is comparable to the famous Rothschild family in their wealth and influence. The family line that is bred out of betrayal and greed accumulates more wealth than any family could wish to spend in a lifetime. As the pot continues to grow, the screws begin to come loose when human emotions spoil the plan. Guilt powers the “downfall” of the Rosewater Foundation.

Eliot Rosewater, an heir to the Rosewater wealth is blessed with all of the privilege one can ask for. He is a white, rich, educated, and wealthy man. All by pure luck. Unlike the Rosewaters before him, these “blessings” do not please him, and immense guilt takes the place of pleasure. As Vonnegut might describe it, his chemicals did not allow him to enjoy his privilege.  

The character driven piece follows the actions Eliot’s guilty emotions lead him to make. When put in charge of the family’s charity foundation, Rosewater takes a very serious approach to helping the less fortunate. Fuelled by guilt and alcohol, he begins a battle with his own privilege.

A fight over the wealth ensues after a money-hungry lawyer invites a long lost member of the Rosewater family to claim what is “rightfully” his. The contrast of the haves and have-nots creates a brilliant piece on the reality of wealth. Vonnegut himself, a socialist and borderline communist, finds flaws in all sides of the story, even managing to challenge himself along the way. The result is a message of questioning the status quo, and the dangers of the extremes.

Upon finishing this novel, you may find yourself pulling out the little pieces of metal and paper in your pockets and wondering what they mean. There is no miraculous answer that comes from the story, only more questions to challenge you everyday life. What is God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater? It is a tale of people, and the only antagonist is numbers attached to their lives.

If you have read the book, (or even if you haven’t) I recommend a more in-depth podcast discussing the book. If you’re a fan of Vonnegut in general, I highly recommend this whole podcast series.


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