As Kilgore enters the cocktail lounge, Bonnie MacMahon has just yelled at Rabo Karabekian, and Rabo has illuminated everyone about his painting with his explanation of “bands of light.” Bonnie says to Rabo: “All you had to do was explain. I understand now.” A man standing nearby nods. “I didn’t think there was anything to explain, but there was, by God.” Another man sitting next to Rabo turns to him and says: “If artists would explain more, people would like art more. You realize that?”
Rabo’s need to explain his painting in order for it to be understood and appreciated again underscores the subjectivity of art. Midland City is not able to glean Rabo’s specific message without first being told what it is. Their immediate acceptance of Rabo’s painting, however, also emphasizes how eager society is to find deep meaning in art, which further places it on a pedestal.
Kilgore has a copy of his novel, Now It Can Be Told, and he looks anxiously around the lounge. Sitting in the bar, Dwayne, Kilgore, and Vonnegut form “an equilateral triangle about twelve feet,” and each of them is “an unwavering band of light.” They are “simple and separate and beautiful. As machines, [they] are flabby bags of ancient plumbing and wiring,” but a part of them is sacred.
Vonnegut’s admission that all of them—Dwayne, Kilgore, and Vonnegut himself—each have a sacred “unwavering band of light” again underscores the fact that they are not machines, and that they are sentient beings with feelings worth noting and respecting.
As Dwayne sits alone in the lounge, his thoughts begin to wander. He remembers something his stepfather had told him as a child. During the First World War, scores of black people came North from the South to work in the factories, and for the first time ever, they were able to make a good living. Over in Shepherdstown, however, the white people decided they didn’t want black people living in their town, so they put signs up all over town and at the railroad yard. The signs read: “NIGGER! THIS IS SHEPHERDSTOWN. GOD HELP YOU IF THE SUN EVER SETS ON YOU HERE!”
Dwayne’s impassioned and unhinged aside is another reflection of the racism present in American society. Furthermore, it also emphasizes how far-reaching these racist ideas truly are. Dwayne’s story is not merely a hateful and meaningless anecdote that he remembers from childhood—it has real and lasting implications since people of color still avoid going to Shepherdstown.
One night, according to Dwayne’s stepfather, a black family failed to see the signs and attempted to spend the night in an empty shack. A “mob” arrived after midnight and abducted the man as he slept and “sawed him in two on the top strand of a barbed-wire fence.” Ever since, Dwayne’s stepfather said, “there ain’t been a Nigger even spend the night in Shepherdstown.” Incidentally, this is why, according to Vonnegut, Bonnie MacMahon’s carwash went bankrupt. To be successful, a carwash “needs cheap and plentiful labor, which meant black labor—and there are no Niggers in Shepherdstown.”
While Dwayne’s stepfather’s story about the one black family who dared to spend the night in Shepherdstown at first seems too violent and awful to be believable, it echoes the actions of many “mobs” throughout history. The appalling treatment of people of color by white Americans is real and well documented, and this story draws attention to this often-ignored reality.
Kilgore “dreads eyes contact,” so he begins to look through the envelope Fred T. Barry sent him. In addition to being the Chairman of the Festival, Barry is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Barryton, Ltd., and he has given Kilgore stock in the company so that he might “feel like a member of [their] family.” The company began in 1934 as The Robo-Magic Corporation of America, which designed the first automatic washing machine for home use. The Robo-Magic motto is at the top of the stock certificate, and it reads: “GOODBYE BLUE MONDAY.”
Kilgore doesn’t want to make eye contact because he suspects that he is a creation, or one of Vonnegut’s machines. The stock certificate that Fred T. Barry gifts Kilgore is more evidence of capitalism in American society. Like Harry and Grace’s Xerox stock, the piece of paper will allow Kilgore to easily make “money magic.”
Robo-Magic’s motto assumes that women do the wash on Mondays, and since no one likes doing the laundry, Monday is a “blue” day. Of course, women do laundry whenever they want to—even Dwayne can remember his own stepmother doing the wash on Christmas Eve during the Depression—so the motto isn’t true. Still, Monday became known as “Blue Monday” because women hate laundry, and the Robo-Magic was going to cheer them up.”
As Robo-Magic’s motto, “Goodbye Blue Monday,” is not rooted in any real truth, it is another example of the arbitrary nature of language. “Blue Monday” has absolutely nothing to do with laundry, but since Robo-Magic says it does, it is so. The meaning of the ad is convenient, not inherent.
The owners of Robo-Magic were the only people rich enough to afford advertising during the Depression, and they rented the only billboard in town. The billboard featured a “high society woman in a fur coat and pearls” on her way out for an “afternoon of idleness.” The conversation bubble coming from her mouth read: “Off to the bridge club while my Robo-Magic does the wash! Goodbye, Blue Monday!”
The subjective nature of the ad is further reflected in the picture it depicts. Women during the Depression were likely unable to relate to a “high society woman in a fur coat and pearls,” and they likely never had the occasion or means for an “afternoon of idleness.”
The Robo-Magic people bought another billboard, near the railroad depot, and this billboard depicted two white deliverymen delivering a Robo-Magic washing machine. A “black maid” stands nearby, and there is a conversation bubble coming from her mouth as well. It read: “Feets, get movin’! Dey’s got theirselves a Robo-Magic! Dey ain’t gonna be needin’ us ‘roun’ here no mo’!”
Robo-Magic’s advertising also serves to perpetuate racism in American society. This ad dehumanizes the black maid by conflating her with a machine as well, which implies that she is only worth the work she is able to perform in the service of white people.
The owner of Robo-Magic wrote his own advertisements, and he “predicted” that Robo-Magic appliances would one day “do what he called ‘all the Nigger work of the world,’” which is all the “lifting and cleaning and cooking and washing and ironing and tending children and dealing with filth.” When Dwayne was a child, his stepmother refused to do housework. The “white men wouldn’t do it either, of course. They called it women’s work, and the women called it Nigger work.”
Again, the Robo-Magic’s ads are a reflection of the owner’s own racism, which also pervades most of society. Even Dwayne’s stepmother also makes a deeply racist comment when she refers to undesirable work as “Nigger work.” In this way, Dwayne’s stepmother implies that black people are better suited to complete this work because it is considered beneath the white population.
During World War Two, Robo-Magic was turned into an armory, and “all that survived of the Robo-Magic itself was its brain” that told the machine when to drain water or agitate. The Robo-Magic brain became the “BLINC System,” which was installed on bombers to release “bombs in such a way as to achieve a desired pattern of explosions on the planet below.”
The hatefulness of the racist Robo-Magic company lives on in the machine’s brain, which continues to destroy people in the form of bombs dropped by the United States military, an institution Vonnegut has already identified as volatile and discriminatory.