Being There Summary

Jerzy Kosiński

Being There

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Being There Summary

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Being There is a 1970 satirical novel by Polish-American writer Jerzy Kosinski. Set in America, it centers on Chance, a simple gardener who unwittingly catches the attention of the political world when his homespun musings on modern life turn him into an in-demand pundit. The entire book takes place over seven days as Chance attempts to adapt to his new celebrity. Exploring themes such as the way the media manipulates people’s views of reality, and the way politicians seek the attention of common people, Being There has been widely praised for its keen political satire. Despite accusations of plagiarism due to its similarities to the 1932 Polish bestseller Nikodem Dyzmas Career, Being There is largely viewed as a classic of modern Polish literature. It was adapted into a 1979 motion picture, with the script co-written by Kosinski and Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas, the last of whom won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The novel begins on Sunday as Chance waters the garden. He lives in a manor with his employer, known only as the Old Man. The maid calls him upstairs and tells him that the Old Man has died in his sleep. Chance meekly says goodbye to his employer and watches as the body is removed. The next morning, Chance meets with Thomas Franklin, the estate’s lawyer. The lawyer tells Chance that there’s no record that Chance ever worked there. He tries to get Chance to sign a document, but Chance never learned to read or write. Chance refuses to sign, and the lawyer tells him he must move out the next day. On Tuesday morning, Chance packs and pays one last visit to his garden. As he leaves, a limousine backs into Chance and injures his leg. A woman, who introduces herself as Mrs. Benjamin Rand but who is known as EE, gets out of the car and tells Chance to let her doctor help him. Chance introduces himself as “Chance the gardener” but EE mishears this as “Chauncey Gardiner”. She takes him to her home where his leg is patched up. That night, he has dinner with EE and Benjamin Rand, a prominent political advisor. Chance’s direct, plainspoken views impress Benjamin, and he tells Chance that he wants his feedback on a new economic program.

On Wednesday, Benjamin and Chance are visited by the President of the United States. As Rand and the President talk economics, the President asks Chance for his opinion. Chance compares growth to a season in a garden, which the President finds intriguing. When the President gives a speech at the Financial Institute, he uses Chance’s analogy, crediting “Chauncey”in the question period. Soon after, Chance is invited to appear on a talk show called “This Evening”to discuss the speech. Chance is introduced as Chauncey Gardiner. The host asks him about the analogy of the economy and a garden, and Chance says that everything in a garden will grow strong at the right time. The audience is won over by this positive message. When EE returns home from a trip, she visits Chance and tells him that she’s in love with him. On Thursday morning, Chance finds out that Rand has taken ill, and EE asks him if he’ll stay at the house with them. Chance is given a personal secretary and attends a United Nations summit with EE. There, he meets ambassadors, including Soviet ambassador Vladimir Skrapinov. Chance’s casual approach charms the Russian man. Later, they’re surrounded by newspaper reporters, but Chance says that he only watches television.

The President, seeing Gardiner catching on with the public, wants to know more about him. However, he can’t find any important documents on the man. In Russia, Skarpinov tries the same thing, but also comes up empty, even with the help of Special Section chief Kapartov. EE and Chance visit her friend Sophie, where Chance has an awkward encounter with an older man who invites him upstairs and pleasures himself. When he and EE return home, EE attempts to seduce him, but he only wants to watch her pleasure herself. She asks him to accompany her to the Capitol Hill ball. Both Russia and the United States remain frustrated by their ability to find any information on Chance, and Russian Foreign Department Chief Sulkin becomes convinced that Gardiner is a secret agent looking to overthrow the government. The President’s advisors also come up empty, but they don’t believe Gardiner is a threat. At the Capitol Hill ball, elite power brokers meet to discuss potential candidates for public office, and the name Chauncey Gardiner comes up repeatedly. After all, he has no background and comes across well on television. Meanwhile, at the ball, Chance excuses himself from the party and heads outside to the garden, where he finally feels at home again.

Jerzy Kosinski was a Polish-American novelist and two-time President of the American Chapter of PEN International. He wrote fifteen works over his career, with three being his most acclaimed—The Painted Bird, set during World War II; Steps, a surreal collection of disturbing vignettes; and Being There, by far his most enduring and popular work. He was widely honored, with awards from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Writers Guild of America, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, in addition to winning the National Book Award in 1969 for Steps.