Thursday, March 4, 2010

A General Introduction to Saul Bellow and His Three Novels with a Brief Review of Its Theme Concern

Alienation in Seize the Day

Alienation in Dangling Man

Alienation in Seize the Day 5

Step by step, Tommy learns to overcome his selfhood. He feels himself part of a larger body. He feels love, as he does in the subway   on his way to the Polo Grounds, when “a general love for all these imperfect and lurid-looking people burst out in Wilhelm’s breast. He loved them. One and all, he passionately loved them. They were his brothers and his sisters. He was imperfect and disfigured himself, but what difference did that make if he was united with them by this blaze of love” (84-5)? In this moment of love Tommy is able to forgive himself. This is not the false love of the impostor soul but the true love which can rid Tommy of his burden.
As he rushes out on to Broadway to look for Dr. Tamkin, Wilhelm makes a number of resolutions: to divorce Margaret, to sell the car and get money for his needs, to return to Olive and her love. He will change his relationship with his father, though he is not sure how: “‘As for Dad— As for Dad’” (115). Tommy seems prepared for a return to community.
The moment before the coffin is very much like the moment of love in the subway — it is an expression of Tommy’s true soul, his love for all men, and his acknowledgement their common humanity. As he looks down on the corpse of a stranger, he understands or at least feels the basic relationship between himself and all men — by the bond of mortality. All shall die live with joy and live in harmony. Thus, standing next to the coffin, Tommy begins to weep, softly at first, and then loudly and compulsively. He weeps for the dead man before him, another human creature. Through the tears and cries and the sobs, he realizes his heart’s ultimate need, a feeling of brotherhood and a love for all mankind.
Anyhow, the novel ends only with new possibilities and resolutions, but no guarantees that Tommy will finally become accommodated to society. Tommy still has to face the break-up with his wife. And he has no intention to reject his selfish character. His job is unsettled. If he makes enough money by chance, he may be able to join the community. If he not, where will he go? So his accommodation to society is only a psychologically temporary one.

Alienation in Seize the Day 4

Tommy and Olive love each other not only because they are physically attracted, but also because they share the similar predicament which finally leads to their mutual adorations:
When she would get up late on Sunday morning she would wake him almost in tears at being late for Mass. He would try to help her... with shaky hands; then he would rush her to church and drive in second gear in his forgetful way, trying to apologize and to calm her. She got out a block from church to avoid gossip. (94)
Whenever Tommy is in a desperate situation and suffers insults from his wife, he immediately thinks of Olive, eager to plunge himself into her arms for consolation. As he is deserted by society and his father and has left his wife, Tommy needs Olive to replace his wife for his troubled heart.   His love for Olive is mingled with hypocrisy and selfishness.
Carrying on a clandestine love affair with his mistress, still haunted by his wife, Tommy can not get rid of his feeling of loneliness.   Whenever he is, he feels out of place. Therefore, Wilhelm agrees “with the saying, that in Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn’t tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California, He himself had been one of these objects” (14-5).
All through the story of his day, Tommy summons into memory the critical mistakes of his past, among them the decision to go to Hollywood, the changing of his name, his elopement and marriage, the investing of his savings with Tamkin. He feels guilty and suffers from this past burden.   Meanwhile the anxiety about what Margaret and his father think about him tortures him. He can not solve his emotional problems (Olive, whom he adores, is tired of waiting for a divorce; Margaret has turned the children against him; she demands money and refuses to give him a divorce) as well as his financial one (he has lost his job and Dr. Adler offers advice rather than money). He has married suffering, dangling in deep misery.
The very title of Seize the Day indicates how Tommy, like Joseph, has run from reality, Dr. Tamkin tells Tommy:
The spiritual compensation is what I look for. Bringing people into the here-and-now. The real universe. That’s the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real — the here-and-now. Seize the day. (66)
To seize the day, to live in here-and-now, is to live with joy and live in harmony and complete one’s own life. One should not waste it lamenting and suffering from past mistakes. It is only at the end of the novel, when all Tommy’s defenses against reality have been stripped away —  Margaret has been unmerciful, his pills are nearly gone, his father has wished him dead, his money is at an and — that he begins to face reality, the reality in which he and his beings live. Stripped bare, he confronts reality for the first time in the novel.
By the end of the novel, Tommy has to undergo three Ordeals   that will purge and redeem his soul. First, the land and rye figures on the stock market drop and Wilhelm realizes he is wiped out financially. The second Ordeal ends when Wilhelm is finally and completely rejected by his two doctors, Dr. Adler and Dr. Tamkin. Lastly, his unfinished telephone call to Margaret seems his final break in communication. She hangs up and he tries to rip the phone from the wall. He is cut apart from the world—without position, money or human contact.
Of course, Tommy, like all of Bellow’s heroes, does not want to cut himself off from other men. Just as Joseph longs for a “colony of the spirit” (DM, 32) and believes that “goodness is achieved not in a vacuum but in the company of other men, attended by love” (DM, 75), so Tommy longs for merger into community, and knows moments of loving commonality.

Alienation in Seize the Day 3

Time and time again, the protagonist attempts to convince the reader of his innocence and justification and at the same time of his wife’s evil and wickedness. In his eyes, Margaret is no better than a dog. It is she who deprives him of everything: home, children and even the pet he adores; and “she demands more and more, and still more” (47).
Like Madeleine, Margaret indulges in an insatiable appetite for life and is intellectually ambitious: “Two years ago she wanted to go back to college and get another degree…. But still she takes as much from me as before. Next thing she’ll want to be a doctor of philosophy” (47-8).
Margaret is so powerful and bossy that Tommy’s reaction to her is no more than an important rage. He cannot enjoy any peace and comfort with her, thus dying of drifting apart from her. Yet, she turns down his request for divorce. Consequently, he has to support her and the children beyond his financial ability. Tommy is obsessed with a feeling that she, like a ghost, is haunting him all the time. Like authoritarian Madeleine, Margaret orders him to neither send any postdated cheques nor to skip any payments. This financial burden leads him to the verge of a crack-up.
Margaret is a strong-minded and self-willed woman, capable of everything. Like Madeleine she can successfully win the sympathy of Tommy’s lawyer and make him stand on her side: “I got a lawyer, and she got one, too, and both of them talk and send me bills, and I eat my heart out” (48).
In the judgment of Tommy, his wife is a great “bitch” who demands not merely to be equal, but also to be superior. Whenever he thinks of her, he feels degraded, frightened, humble and irresolute. Towards the end of the novel, the reader sees him talk with his wife on the phone, begging her for sympathy and leniences “Margaret, go easy on me. You ought to. I’m at the end of my rope and feel that I’m suffocating” (113). But Margaret has no patience to hear him grumbling. She cuts in, “How did you imagine it was going to be — big shot? Everything made smooth for you” (ll4)? And in an ironic tone she asks him to call again when he has got “something Sensible to say”. Terribly insulted, he tries to “tear the apparatus from the wall” (114).
As it has been mentioned earlier, Marggret is filtered through the mind of the protagonist. For that reason, it is quite likely that Tommy narrates her through his own subjective view. But when the narrator becomes somewhat objective, the reader feels that she is not exactly the figure she has bean depicted. Tommy remembers when they were on good terms, his wife was kind and gentle to him: “Margaret nursed him. ... She sat on the bed and read to him” (89).
Additionally, both his wife and his father declare that “it was he who had left her” (113) on his own initiative. But, what caused the break-up of their intimacy? The reason might be, as his father estimates, that he has “bed-trouble with her” (5l). Perhaps he thinks his wife is too frigid to offer him sexual appeal, as his father says, “so now you pay for your stupid romantic notions” (51). He longs to divorce her so that he can seek new stimulation and fulfillment freely. Another reason is that Margaret herself is also a taker. So antagonism must arise between the two selfish persons. Hence it is not fair that Margaret should take all the responsibility for their break-up. Tommy ought to shoulder most of it.
Devoid of spiritual sustenance from Margaret, Tommy, like Joseph and Herzog, turns to his mistress Olive, who is a rather shadowy character.   Olive, like Sono in Herzog, is obedient and gentle and offers Tommy flesh solace and sexual affection. Small, dark and Catholic, Olive stands a striking contrast to the energetic, big Margaret. Like Tommy, she is also passive, dominated by her powerful, domineering father and her priest.   Despite her Catholic religion, she agrees to marry Tommy outside the church. Yet, her aspiration is thwarted by Margaret who firmly refuses to divorce Tommy, tike a chicken that confronts an eagle, she is no match for Margaret in the marriage rivalry.

Alienation in Seize the Day 2

The theme of spiritual isolation is established in the first several pages of the novel when Tommy stops to get his morning newspaper from Rubin, the newspaper vendor. They talk only about the weather, Tommy’s clothes, and last night’s gin game. Even though both men know many intimate details of each other’s personal lives. “None of these could be mentioned, and the great weight of the unspoken left him little to talk about.” (SB, 76).  A few lines later, during the same meeting, Tommy thinks: “He [Rubin] meant to be conversationally playful, but his voice had no tone and his eyes, alack and lid-blinded, turned elsewhere. He didn’t want to hear. It was all the same to him” (8).
Even Tommy’s father, Dr. Adler, refuses to become involved in his son’s desperate loneliness. Tommy needs money which he assumes his father could easily supply, but Adler, is greatly pained, even shies away, when the subject is mentioned. Again and again, he appeals to his father for compassion, for money. But his appeal is always futile, for his father’s response are ever a cold, detached, yet bitter and angry analytical denunciation of Tommy’s past failures and present ignominy. Indeed, his father is ashamed of his son. “It made Tommy profoundly bitter that his father should speak to him with such attachment about his welfare” (10).   Tommy even wonders if his father has lost his family sense.
Anyhow, Tommy’s subjective complaints about his father are not reliable. Tommy, himself, is very selfish. He always expects to receive and never gives — concern or anything else. His relation with his father is chiefly one of getting money from him, and the money is always wasted by him. Why should his retired old father give money to him? His father has no obligation to do so. He accuses his father of thinking only in terms of money because he won’t give it to him to waste, to gamble in the market. He feels he is not getting enough, so he keeps his relation with his father though it is not comfortable.
In a different way, the circumstances are the same with the rather mysterious Dr. Tamkin. Tommy feels that he can talk to and he understood by him; but here, too, a barrier of communication exists. In the words of Dr. Tamkin, it is impossible to separate truth from fiction, intellect from idiocy. At times, there is no doubt in Tommy’s mind that there is truth, even profound truth, in his philosophical and psychological teachings; at other times, Tommy knows he is being victimized by this combination psychologist, psychiatrist, broker, poet, gambler, counselor, father, and world-travelling philosopher. Hence, he consolation comes from the quarter. In order to get rich without paying any effort, Tommy gives his last savings to Dr. Tamkin for investment in stocks, though he has his doubts. Toward the end of the novel, Tommy finally finds that he has merely been cheated, that Tamkin does not care about him or his problems: “I was the man beneath; Tamkin was on my back, and I thought I was on his. He made me carry him, too, besides Margaret.   Like this they ride on me with hoofs and claws. Tear me to pieces, stamp on me and break my bones” (105).
Tommy’s estranged wife, Margaret, reinforces his feeling of alienation. Like Iva in Dangling Man, she is presented to the reader through the mind of her husband, Tommy. Like Madeleine in Herzog, Bellow describes Margaret as a bitch and castrating sadist. She is cruel, cold and disagreeable. Speaking of his wife, Tommy says to his father: “Whenever she can hit me, she hit, and she seems to live for that alone. ... She can do it at long distance” (47-8).
As maintained by Tommy, Margaret is a vampire figure, motivated to remove air from his breath, and drink up his blood. She belongs to the sort of woman who “eat green salad and drink human blood” (H, 56). Margaret would tell him he did not really want a divorce; he was afraid of it. He cried “Take everything I’ve got, Margaret. Let me go to Reno. Don’t you want to marry again?” No. She went out with other men, but took his money. She lived in order to punish him. (94)