Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There is the story of Chance Gardener, a man with limited mental and social potential, yet raised by his environment to the level of fame. Referred to as a “blank page” person, he is, at the same time, seen by his immediate environment as “quite a personality” mainly because of his exterior qualities: he has a “beautiful voice”, is “manly” and “well-groomed”. Not only the Manhattan society, in which Chance finds himself after being hit by a car knows nothing about Gardiner’s past: the reader is also faced with the same puzzle.
The opening chapter provides only some information about the protagonist’s enclosed life in the Old Man’s house, his passion for gardening and his life reality, which is entirely formed by the pictures seen on television. We get to know that the Old Man sheltered Chance as a baby when his mother died, that his name is Chance because he was born by chance, that due to his mental disability inherited from his mother he could neither read nor write. The only people that Chance initially communicates with are the Old Man, who eventually dies, and the maid Louise.
Louise is soon forced to return to Jamaica due to an illness and a new maid comes to substitute her. Chance the Gardener seems to lead a blissful life while watching TV or working in the garden – the only activities that form his view of reality at the onset of the narration. However, when the Old Man dies he is forced to leave the house as no will is left by the deceased and no record of Chance as either a resident or employee can be found in the Old Man’s documents. It remains a riddle for both the lawyer who comes to handle the estate and the reader why Chance was left out of the records.
For all that, this riddle appears to serve as a good tool for creating suspense in the account of the hero’s changed life style after the accident. With no social and family connections whatsoever Gardiner becomes the center of attention among the educated high class society of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Rand. He soon meets the US President and a number of political and corporate figures, and becomes “a strong candidate for one of the vacant seats on the board of the First American Financial Corporation” (35).
The developments that follow appear hilarious as none of the persons Gardiner gets acquainted with is aware of his physical disabilities. Two aspects that “save” his positive image are his interest in television and love for gardening. The first helps him think of proper ways to behave in social situations and the latter is a basis for the only factual knowledge he can refer to when participating in discussions about American economy. For instance, when engaging in conversations with Mrs. Rand “Chance resorted to repeating to her parts of her own sentences, a practice he had observed on TV.
In this fashion he encouraged her to continue and elaborate” (24). Also, during a meal Chance ignored the wine because “On TV, wine put people in a state they could not control” (26). Later, when invited to participate in a TV show, Gardiner could experience the making of a program personally: “Chance was astonished that television could portray itself; cameras watched themselves…” (37). Similarly, his story about seasons and growth in the garden during his meeting with the President led to his being recognized as an expert in the field of economics.
Towards the end of the novel the suspense is even greater when the President keeps demanding that his administration provides him with background information about Chance. However, they are unable to find out anything substantial. Mass media is also concerned about the lack of such information. However, Chance’s future looks positive especially with the death of Benjamin Rand. Mrs. Rand is very much in love with Gardiner and sincerely hopes he will stay with her after her husband’s death. Gardiner appears to also have acquired a certain image in the public eye, which will not be easily shattered in case politicians find out who he really is.
On numerous occasions Gardiner was very explicit about his disabilities to write and read, but the public interpreted it in its own way, the “wishful thinking” way. The latter is, ultimately, the problem of the public – and the American society in its wider implications – that interpreted Gardiner’s words the way it wished to. Works Cited Kosinski, Jerzy. Being There Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1996 Brothers Judd Daily. Ed. 23 Sep. 2000 < htttp://www. brothersjudd. com /index. cfm/fuseaction/reviews. detail/book_id/294/Being%20There. htm>
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