Saul Bellow - Ms. West

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Saul Bellow
Seize the Day in historical context
Post WWII
• US emerged from WWII as the most powerful nation on
earth
• People wanted life to return to normal, but the dawn of the
nuclear age and fear of the Soviet Union worried everyone
• UN created at the same time the Cold War starts between
the US and Soviet Union
• Conflict in S. Korea to fight Communism there in 1950
• Americans of the 1950’s called the “silent generation” –
lived through the Great Depression and WWII, so when
peace and prosperity arrived, only too happy to adopt a
quiet complacent attitude
• American life was growing more diversified
and complex
• Rapid change: technology, travel…
• Literature reflects the feelings and changes
taking place at this time: struggle of
ordinary people in a complex world and
their desire to improve their lives
Saul Bellow
• Writes about the average man seeking
truth in a world that overwhelms
him…Why?
• Born Solomon Bellows in Lachine,
Canada, 1915
• Moved to Chicago in 1924 and the city
became his “frontier”
• Seize the Day is set in NY where
Bellow captures the world in which the
main character navigates
• As a Jewish-American
writer in the post
WWII era, Bellow
imbues his novels with
rich Jewish heritage
without steeping them
in orthodox ritual
• Bellow takes on big
themes without
“sermonizing”
• His novels reflect a
vast array of
influences, from
Nietzsche to Mark
Twain
• His work is deeply
intellectual with
characters who are
often themselves
intellectuals
• Bellow is considered
one of the great
American authors of
the 20th century for his
insight into human
suffering and
relationships
• For his skill, he was
awarded the Nobel
Prize for Literature in
1976
• Also awarded the
Pulitzer Prize and won
the National Book
Award three times
• In a recent list of the
100 best works of
fiction in this century,
two of Bellow’s books
made the grade
Bellow’s Techniques
• Bellow was interested in theatre, so many
theatrical techniques appear in Seize the
Day and in his only full length play, The
Last Analysis
• Seize the Day:
– Tommy Wilhelm an ex-actor
– Acting/theatre as an escape: “When you start to
act, you’re no more an ordinary person” (p. 22)
– Characters in theatre “feel” more than “normal”
people (Wilhelm)
– Dramatic flow – Seize the Day designed as a
“sequence of instants” – the notion of
“instantaneousness”
Structurally, the story is
surrounded by an aura of
the ordinary, even decay…
– The Gloriana Hotel – aging hotel for
aging people
– Dr. Adler, patriarch of the family, is
well-off, at least in theory
– A son, Tommy, who is financially
demanding
– Approaching death of Dr. Adler
– Lack of emotional involvement on the
part of Dr. Adler
Treatment of Women…
• Often vampire-like, money-hungry, leeches
• Margaret (Wilhelm’s wife) “knows how to
cripple by sickening a man with guilt…”
• Hear little of Wilhelm’s sister, Catherine,
except that she tries to get money for a
gallery showing from her father, Dr. Adler
Burdens of the Past…
• Tommy Wilhelm spends much of the day
alternately agonizing over and avoiding past
mistakes
• Looking for rebirth
Bellow’s Legacy…
• In spite of all his success, Saul Bellow remains an
undiscovered master. Few people can name many
of his titles. Fewer, still, have read him.
• So what is the secret to his success as a writer?
“He is that rare author who combines
imaginative storytelling with vast intellectual
knowledge, as well as a moral conscience.”
Top 10 Quotes from Seize the Day:
• 1. “Old people are bound to change, he said.
They have hard things to think about. They
must prepare for where they are going.” p. 15
(Fawcett edition, 1956).
• 2. “‘. . . love that well which thou must leave
ere long.’” p. 16
• 3. “It was getting so that people were feebleminded about everything except money. p. 41
• 4. “Carry nobody on your back.”
p. 61
• 5. “Ass! Idiot! Wild boar! Dumb
mule! Slave! Lousy, wallowing
hippopotamus!” p. 62
• 6. “Money-making is aggression. That’s the
whole thing. . . . people come to the market to
kill. They say, ‘I’m going to make a killing.’” p.
76
• 7. “Every other man spoke a language
entirely his own, which he had figured out by
private thinking; he had his own ideas and
peculiar ways.” p. 91
• 8. “Nature only knows one thing, and that’s
the present. Present, present, eternal
present, like a big, huge, giant wave—
colossal, bright and beautiful, full of life and
death, climbing into the sky, standing in the
seas.” p. 97
• 9. “You can spend the entire second half of
your life recovering from the mistakes of the
first half.” p. 100
• 10. “I want to tell you, don’t marry suffering.
Some people do. They get married to it, and
sleep and eat together, just as husband and
wife. If they go with joy they think it’s
adultery.” p. 106
Top 10 Quotes from Seize the Day:
• 1. “Old people are bound to change, he said.
They have hard things to think about. They
must prepare for where they are going.” p. 15
(Fawcett edition, 1956).
Wilhelm tries to make excuses for
his father.
• 2. “‘. . . love that well which thou must leave ere
long.’” p. 16
Wilhelm recalls a snatch of poetry
(by Shakespeare) from his college days.
• 3. “It was getting so that people were feebleminded about everything except money. p. 41
Wilhelm’s thoughts as he sits with
his father and Mr. Perls at breakfast.
• 4. “Carry nobody on your back.” p. 61
Dr. Adler’s advice to his son.
• 5. “Ass! Idiot! Wild boar! Dumb mule!
Slave! Lousy, wallowing hippopotamus!”
p. 62
The names Wilhelm calls
himself after he leaves the breakfast
table.
• 6. “Money-making is aggression. That’s the whole
thing. . . . people come to the market to kill. They say,
‘I’m going to make a killing.’” p. 76
Dr. Tamkin speaks to Wilhelm.
• 7. “Every other man spoke a language entirely his
own, which he had figured out by private thinking; he
had his own ideas and peculiar ways.” p. 91
Wilhelm’s thoughts about New York.
• 8. “Nature only knows one thing, and that’s the
present. Present, present, eternal present, like a big,
huge, giant wave—colossal, bright and beautiful, full
of life and death, climbing into the sky, standing in the
seas.” p. 97
Dr. Tamkin explains his philosophy of living
in the present.
• 9. “You can spend the entire second half of
your life recovering from the mistakes of the
first half.” p. 100
Wilhelm to Dr. Tamkin.
• 10. “I want to tell you, don’t marry suffering.
Some people do. They get married to it, and
sleep and eat together, just as husband and
wife. If they go with joy they think it’s
adultery.” p. 106
Dr. Tamkin’s advice to Wilhelm.
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