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God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine is a 1965 novel by American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922-2007). The novel is a postmodern satire on wealth, capitalism, and the dark side of the American Dream. Vonnegut’s fifth novel is considered a precursor to Slaughterhouse Five (1969) since it introduces many of the themes that appear in that much-lauded novel. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater contains elements of science fiction, which emerge in a metafictional novel by Vonnegut’s fictional author, Kilgore Trout. Trout provides a metacommentary on the novel’s world. Vonnegut is one of the major writers of the 20th century, and many critics compare him to Mark Twain for his incisive critiques of American politics and culture.
This study guide cites The Dial Press 2007 edition.
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Content warning: The source material uses outdated, offensive terms to discuss mental illness, suicide, and alcoholism. In addition, the source material uses disparaging language to describe characters’ intellect and appearance. This study guide only replicates such terms in direct quotes of the source material. When applicable, these terms are contextualized within the study guide and replaced with more inclusive terminology.
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The novel is set in New York and Rosewater, Indiana, in 1964, and is written in the third-person past tense. The novel opens with a lawyer, Norman Mushari, strategizing to acquire the Rosewater Foundation’s $87 million fortune. Mushari’s law firm—McAllister, Robjent, Reed, and McGee—manages the foundation’s money. Eliot’s father, Senator Lister Rosewater, is a successful politician with a distinguished career in international law. He has always instilled his values—the acquisition of wealth and the accumulation of power—in his children. Eliot, however, does not share his father’s ideology. His experiences in World War II have changed his worldview.
Desiring a break from his family’s trajectory, Eliot moves to Rosewater, Indiana. It is a small town and the home of the Rosewater Foundation (originally conceived of as a tax shelter to protect the foundation’s money). When Eliot becomes the president of the Rosewater Foundation, he decides he knows a better use for the foundation’s money.
Eliot distributes fliers, stickers, and signs advertising that, in lieu of suicide, people who feel desperate should call the Rosewater Foundation at their moment of crisis. He then gives each person a solution on the condition that they live for another week. Sometimes this means giving them a few hundred dollars. At other times, he simply prescribes an aspirin and a glass of wine. He spends millions of dollars in this fashion.
An unscrupulous lawyer named Norman Mushari wants to enrich himself with the case by proving that Eliot is mentally “incompetent.” If Eliot is found unable to retain stewardship of the fortune, it will pass to Fred Rosewater, a distant, lazy relative who is next in line for the position. By representing Fred, Mushari can take a commission of the proceeds.
After a mental health crisis, Eliot spends a year in a psychiatric hospital. To Mushari, this proves that Eliot is legally unfit to run the foundation. Mushari also bribes people in Rosewater to speak poorly of Eliot, including 57 women he pays to claim that Eliot fathered their children. The Senator visits Eliot with McAllister and the novelist Kilgore Trout. Eliot keeps the money from Mushari by claiming that he fathered the 57 children, and that they will share his inheritance. In the end, the Senator fails to reassert control of the fortune, and the 57 children of Rosewater County will receive the money and full rights of inheritance.
By Kurt Vonnegut Jr.