Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is one of the most deeply sad novels to be written since Tender is the Night. On this twenty-four hours of thinking. during the seven hours or so that comprise the action of the novel. all the problems that constitute the present status of Wilhelm Adler descend upon him and oppress him. go forthing him hard up. entirely. and in such profound wretchedness that one can barely conceive of his traveling on. He is. as he says. at the terminal of his rope. This has been one of those yearss. he says to his married woman. May I ne’er live to travel through another like it. We feel that he may non populate at all. so great is his wretchedness. so wholly has he been destroyed. Yet if we look more profoundly. more accurately. we see that the significance of the novel merely begins here. that beneath this profound and traveling sense of desperation is the birth of a psyche. Wilhelm’s. and that Bellow. far from holding depicted the licking of adult male. has given us one of his most moving histories of the conditions under which he can trust to be winning. Wilhelm does non emerge triumphantly out of his problems ; but the really sufferings they cause him hold brought his psyche into being: Wilhelm’s Pretender psyche has died. his existent psyche has been born. It may non populate long.Order now
Although Bellow takes us no further than the birth. Marcus Klein has pointed out that At the minute of decease. his gesture is toward being. the verve that defines and unites everyone. and his crying is an credence of it and therefore an act of love toward life. Yet this is by no agencies obvious. In fact. on a first or even a 2nd reading. the opposite seems to be true. Wilhelm’s apparently deliberate efforts to destroy his ain life. his ain complete forsaking to cryings at the terminal. both of these seem to indicate more to a love of decease. Merely after we have entered Bellow’s universe. after we have begun to hold on the trade with which this remarkable novel is written. can we understand the truth of Mr. Klein’s statement. The reasoning paragraph of the novel at first deceives but is eventually the important 1 to our apprehension of the work: The flowers and visible radiations fused rapturously in Wilhelm’s wet eyes ; the heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. It poured into him where he had hidden himself in the centre of a crowd by the great and happy limbo of cryings. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow. through lacerate shortness of breaths and calls toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate demand.
That demand. the whole of the novel comes to uncover. is the demand non to decease. writes Marcus Klein. But Wilhelm is submerging. The perennial usage of the image merely intensifies the force of the metaphor. and it is non until we discover Bellow’s attitude toward that province that we can accept Mr. Klein’s statement. In fact. merely by a survey of how H2O imagination is employed in the whole novel can the paradox. life by submerging. be to the full understood. Human wretchedness is by and large the consequence of one of two things: being in a status of life that is unbearable or being trapped within a ego that creates its ain snake pit. In the modern universe the assorted societal bureaus aim at relieving the former. the head-shrinker the latter. But when one is in demand of both the societal worker and the head-shrinker at the same clip. the deepnesss of human wretchedness Begin to be seen. Basically this is Wilhelm’s province. and what Bellow is stating is that under such conditions the ego that feels these afflictions from within and without must be destroyed. Nothing can be done for it because it defeats its ain good. Wilhelm is a born also-ran: After much idea and vacillation and argument he constantly took the class he had rejected countless times.
Ten such determinations made up the history of his life. Although the conditions of his life are non those that would appeal to the understanding of a societal worker. he is none the less destitute: jobless. homeless. and penniless. On this concluding twenty-four hours in which his wretchedness overwhelms him. he drowns ; but he goes deeper than sorrow and out of this nonliteral decease his psyche is born. Because Wilhelm is barely cognizant of the new life he has entered. the whole action of the novel is dry. What appeared to be the agonizing and progressively bootless attempts to get away devastation become the necessary contractions of birth. The flight turns out to be a pilgrim’s journey. the victim a penitent. and the descent into hell the necessary enduring out of which the psyche is born. Deep within himself Wilhelm is dimly aware of this. He curses himself for holding fought with his male parent: But at the same clip. since there were deepnesss in Wilhelm non unsuspected by himself. he received a suggestion from some distant component in his ideas that the concern of life. the existent concern to transport his curious load. to experience shame and powerlessness. to savor those quenched cryings the lone of import concern. the highest concern was being done.
Possibly the devising of errors expressed the really intent of his life and the kernel of his being here. Possibly he was supposed to do them and endure for them on this Earth. At minutes he ceases from flight and prosecute the good. his characteristic self-loathing falls off and he even feels within himself the powers of a Jesus. For case. what truly entreaties to him about going an histrion is that he believes that in this manner he can be a lover to the whole universe. The sense of a cosmopolitan spirit that unites and blesses all world has late come to him as he is walking through a dark tunnel beneath Times Square: A general love for all these imperfect and lurid-looking people burst out in Wilhelm’s chest. He loved them. One and all. he passionately loved them. They were his brothers and sisters. He was imperfect and disfigured himself. but what difference did that do if he was united with them by this blazing of love? And as he walked he began to state. Oh my brothers my brothers and my sisters. blessing them all every bit good as himself. Although such feelings ne’er last long and are normally fled from instead than welcomed. on this twenty-four hours of thinking he remembers this experience and thinks. I must travel back to that. That’s the right hint and may make me the most good. Something really large. Truth. like.
This avowal. lame as it is. constitutes his ain dim acknowledgment of the salvaging terminal of what more frequently appears to him as a destructive component his ain intensely emotional nature. He continually blames his failures on his strong and frequently unmanageable emotions ; yet we are eventually made aware that it is merely this capacity to experience. more specifically this demand to love and be loved. that makes possible the birth of Wilhelm’s psyche at the terminal of the novel. Ultimately. the clearest indicant that the action of Seize the Day is dry is found in Bellow’s attitude toward man’s emotional nature. non merely as revealed in this novel but throughout his authorship. That Bellow is in the tradition of the great English Romantic poets Wordsworth in peculiar in this regard has been brightly argued by Irvin Stock in . Understanding the construction of Bellow’s novel to be dry. we are now able to province its major subject. Man’s psyche has existence merely when it can love and experience love in return. Modern society. nevertheless. has no usage for the psyche. Kill or be killed is its jurisprudence and that of material life. Most people learn this early and conform to it.
They are non even aware that their psyches have died in the procedure. Those few who refuse to abandon the life of the psyche. who still yearn for its fruition. are punished through agony and finally destroyed. unable to contend against what appears to them to be the jurisprudence of nature. Such devastation can merely impact the Pretender psyche. nevertheless. And the existent psyche is born as a consequence. That Bellow should utilize H2O imagination more to the full to render his subject is appropriate sing that H2O and the emotional life have been linked since antediluvian times and peculiarly so within the English Romantic tradition. What is striking. nevertheless. is the attention he has taken to weave his imagination into so much of the novel. to light it on so many different degrees. Our apprehension of how Bellow utilizations H2O imagination non merely underlines for us his thematic purpose. non merely reveals to us the greater significance of inside informations we might otherwise go through over. but dramatizes for us the workings of a elusive and profound originative imaginativeness. The image. in fact. so strongly is it used. takes on the glow of the symbol ; and like other great symbolist accomplishments. Seize the Day becomes richer with each re-reading.
A short novel of merely over a 100 pages. it is a fantastic compaction. an artistic distillment of the sort that attractively demonstrates the strengths of the symbolist technique used at its best. a technique that gives a peculiar sort of enjoyable strength that is non found in novels that employ other methods. The image of the drowning Wilhelm is the commanding one. but because of the book’s dry construction it is an image that maps in two ways. On a first reading. and on each rereading on the surface of our experience. it intensifies our understanding for Wilhelm’s status. Even when Wilhelm is being depicted least sympathetically. when he is most in the incorrect. most the sloven. we are continually made cognizant that we are witnessing the strugglings of a drowning adult male and we want to see him deliver. Thus our understanding is continual in a manner that it is non. for case. with Dostoevski’s belowground adult male.
Once the dry construction of the novel has been seen. nevertheless. this same image maps to convey us to an apprehension of Bellow’s existent subject the self-contradictory life by submerging. In the first portion of the novel the image of the drowning Wilhelm is merely hardly suggested and in a manner that would hold small significance if it were non strengthened by the presence of other things: closely related H2O images and figures of address associating his predicament to that of a drowning adult male. At the terminal of the novel. nevertheless. we see him as about literally submerging. unable to breath ; so eventually the suppressed cryings rise to overrun his face ; and so the sense of peace and the dreamy motion of the floating organic structure toward its concluding resting topographic point.
Merely after one has felt the full force of the image at the terminal can one travel back and see where it lay. implicit but veiled in the narrative of Wilhelm’s twenty-four hours. Merely so can one appreciate the dual significance the image holds. The fresh clears with Wilhelm’s coming down in an lift from the 23rd floor of the Hotel Gloriana in New York City to the first balcony to hold breakfast with his male parent. The lift sank and sank. Then the smooth door opened and the great dark red uneven rug that covered the anteroom billowed toward Wilhelm’s pess. In the foreground the anteroom was dark. sleepy. Gallic curtains like canvass kept out the Sun. but three high. narrow Windowss were unfastened. and in the bluish air Wilhelm saw a pigeon about to illume on the great concatenation that supported the pavilion of the film house straight underneath the anteroom. For one minute he heard the wings crushing strongly. As we realize subsequently. if we do non at the clip. Wilhelm is here imagined as already drowned. under the H2O where all is still. dark. sleepy. merged with the other dead dwellers of the Earth.
Merely the pigeon is free. outside of this component. his wings crushing strongly. Because of Wilhelm’s fright. because he sensed that a immense problem long presaged but till now formless was due. because of the symbolic affinity between the pigeon and the dove. and because to Wilhelm the bird is clearly thought of in contrast to himself ; because of these things coupled with other similar suggestions in the whole transition. we see that the pigeon is meant to propose Wilhelm’s psyche going from him. that this is a scene boding the battle to come. Other inside informations indicate that the whole scene is to be imagined as taking topographic point beneath the H2O. Rubin. the adult male at the newsstand. is gazing moonily out of the window as if he excessively were submerged. The Hotel Ansonia. at which he is staring. looked like the image of itself reflected in deep H2O. white and cumulous above. with cavernous deformations underneath. Both work forces are trapped in a common vision. as if they were really cognizant of their metaphorical being beneath the Waterss.
The hotel itself is described as if it were beneath the Waterss and being viewed from them. The Ansonia. the neighborhood’s great landmark. was built by Stanford White. It looks like a churrigueresque castle from Prague or Munich enlarged a 100 times. with towers. domes. immense crestless waves and bubbles of metal gone green from exposure. Fe lattice and festoons. Black telecasting aerial are dumbly planted on its unit of ammunition acmes. Under the alterations of conditions it may look like marble or like sea H2O. black as slate in the fog. white as tufa in sunshine. The Ansonia is significantly the neighborhood’s great landmark. The country itself is a retired. aged one and suggests in its ain right the decease of bosom every bit good as the submerged universe of spiritless being. The suggestions of the submerging Wilhelm amid a society that is already dead in its psyche are far more obvious as the novel progresses. and they build toward the climactic concluding scene in which the sudden reversal of the image is felt. Appropriately. Wilhelm quotes several times from Milton’s Lycidas: Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor. Bellow even adds after one such mention. such things had ever swayed him. Wilhelm is inveterate short of breath as he smokes excessively much. takes excessively many pills. and drinks excessively many Coca Colas ; whenever he feels oppressed or even really moved emotionally. he literally can non catch his breath.
Many mentions to his thorax aching him. along with the other inside informations. give us the feeling throughout the work of a adult male swimming for his life and. since he is mostly unsuccessful. of a adult male easy and distressingly submerging. At the terminal of the novel the symbolic and the actual merge as he reaches what appears to be the point of decease. fighting for air in a telephone booth. He shouts to his married woman: You’ve got to allow up. I feel I’m about to split. His face had expanded. He struck a blow upon the Sn and wood and nails of the wall of the booth. You’ve got to allow me take a breath …~ He had barely adequate air in his lungs to talk in a susurration. because his bosom pushed upward with a atrocious force per unit area … Wilhelm tried to rupture the setup from the wall. He ground his dentitions and seized the black box with insane delving fingers and made a smothered call and pulled. Then he saw an aged lady gazing through the glass door. absolutely appalled by him. and he ran from the booth. go forthing a big sum of alteration on the shelf. Every item here maps absolutely. both symbolically and literally. particularly. possibly. the glass door of the booth which separates the component that is choking him from that which surrounds us.
That component. on its deepest degree. is the deficiency of love he feels so bitterly in his married woman. Almost literally the really breath of his life is love. and when she hangs up on him it is as if she had cut the air hosiery. Wilhelm feels suffocated. though to a lesser extent. merely by populating in the metropolis. The grabbing for money and particularly the cynicism of the concern universe oppress him in a physical every bit good as mental manner. Yet Bellow does non do him a complete victim. for clearly he is his ain worst enemy. and in one beautiful simile Bellow links Wilhelm’s self-destructiveness with these images of submerging: Like a ball in the breaker. washed beyond range. his self-denial was traveling out. Merely Professor Tamkin. one of Bellow’s queerly ambivalent visionaries. offers to assist him. Here most clearly redemption for Wilhelm is presented in footings of an ability to lift to the top of the Waterss. to sit the crest of the moving ridge of life to triumph and success ; but here. besides clearly. Tamkin is a destroyer of the psyche. a false image of redemption. Wilhelm must be drowned. in other words. for his psyche to swim. and this portion at least of Tamkin’s pressing is aimed at a soulless success. an empty triumph. Bellow calls Tamkin the great confuser of the imaginativeness. and although Bellow uses him to province many of the truths of the novel. Tamkin most ruthlessly quarries upon Wilhelm.
In the last words of subdivision four Wilhelm imagines his ain Lycidas-like terminal as he realizes how much he is now depending on Tamkin. But what have I let myself in for? The Waterss of the Earth are traveling to turn over over me. In connexion with Tamkin. Bellow is most dry in his usage of H2O imagination. Tamkin is the confuser of the imaginativeness. but he besides appears to be the great adult male of feeling and Wilhelm. whose deepest demand is to populate positively in his emotional life bends to him as a possible Jesus: Secretly he prayed the physician would give him some utile advice and transform his life. The physician is the 1 who encourages Wilhelm to swear his emotions. who makes for Wilhelm the differentiation between the existent and pretender psyche. and who seemingly sees that Wilhelm is killing himself and being killed because he can non let go of the deepest beginnings of his emotional being. He sees him as symbolic of ill humanity and offers to mend him. My existent naming is to be a therapist. he tells Wilhelm: I get wounded. I suffer from it. I would wish to get away from the illnesss of others. but I can’t. I am merely on loan to myself. so to talk.
I belong to humanity. Merely before this transition. nevertheless. he has told Wilhelm that his married woman committed self-destruction. by submerging herself ; and Tamkin is first mentioned in the novel in connexion with his innovation of an submerged suit in which 1 might get away from New York City by walking up the floor of the Hudson in instance of an atomic onslaught. Increasingly we are made cognizant that Tamkin is utilizing others instead than being used by them. that his is the touch of decease. non life. Yet it is Bellow’s mastermind to render him for us as both a Jesus and a destroyer. a fact which gives deeper significance to Mr. Perls’ statement about him: He could be both sane and loony. In these yearss cipher can state for certain which is which. The exact nature of Tamkin’s double function becomes clear when one compares the undermentioned transitions. transitions which are themselves contrasting H2O images. In the first Tamkin preaches to Wilhelm one of the cardinal philosophies of romanticism brotherhood with nature through trust on her goodness: If you could hold assurance in nature you would non hold to fear. It would maintain you up. Creative is nature. Rapid. Lavish. Inspirational. It shapes leaves. It rolls the Waterss of the Earth.
Man is the head of this. All creative activities are his merely heritage. You don’t cognize what you’ve got within you. A individual either creates or destroys. There is no neutrality… . Making even more specific usage of H2O imagination. he tells Wilhelm slightly subsequently in the novel: Nature merely knows one thing. and that’s the present. Present. nowadays. ageless nowadays. like a large. immense. elephantine wavecolossal. bright and beautiful. full of life and decease. mounting into the sky. standing in the seas. You must travel along with the existent. the Here-and-Now. the glory… . In the first transition Tamkin is stating Wilhelm non to fear. that if he relies on nature it will maintain him up. Nature is like a great sea on which adult male can drift. In the 2nd transition. nevertheless. nature is a moving ridge. adult male a surfboarder. and the feeling is despairing if besides tickle pinking. The first is inactive and soothing. the 2nd vital and instead terrifying.
Within a broader literary tradition. the difference is approximately between the early Wordsworth and Nietzsche. and the difference is huge. Wilhelm feels incapable of the religion involved in accepting what is demanded in the first transition. Right after it. in fact. he says. The Waterss of the Earth are traveling to turn over over me. But his reaction to the second is even stronger ; it interrupts Tamkin’s really words and is a memory. non a witting idea: … thorax failing. Wilhelm’s remembrance went on. Margaret nursed him. They had two suites of furniture. which was subsequently seized. She sat on the bed and read to him. He made her read for yearss. and she read narratives. poesy. everything in the house. He felt dizzy. stifled when he tried to smoke. They had him have on a flannel waistcoat. Come so. Sorrow!
Like an ain baby I nurse thee on my chest!
Why did he retrieve that? Why?
In the sense that Tamkin drives Wilhelm farther toward desperation. he turns out to be his destroyer. non his Jesus. though finally. since Wilhelm must be destroyed in order to be saved. we see Tamkin as ironically a savior figure even here. To Wilhelm. nevertheless. Tamkin is at last recognized as the great informer. The concluding subdivision of the novel opens with Wilhelm recognizing. I was the adult male beneath ; Tamkin was on my dorsum and I thought I was on his. While this specifically applies to the fact that Tamkin has lost Wilhelm’s money for him in the stock exchange. it must besides be read as a H2O image. Wilhelm has thought that Tamkin was back uping him in the Waterss of his problems. It turns out that Wilhelm. fighting to swim himself. has been drowned by Tamkin who has been back uping himself on him. The beauty of the wordplay is that it besides applies to Wilhelm’s father whose existent character is shown in the advice he gives his boy earlier in the novel. advice which. because it is so cold-hearted. is what originally drove Wilhelm to seek aid elsewhere: I can’t give you any money … You and your sister would take every last vaulting horse from me … And I want cipher on my dorsum. Get off!
And I give you the same advice. Wilky. Carry cipher on your dorsum. If Wilhelm is crushed by the Nietzschean. he eventually discovers the true beginning of his being in something profoundly Wordsworthean. for at the terminal of the novel it is the still. sad music of humanity that opens his bosom. that chastens and subdues. and so gives birth to his existent psyche. Caught by the crowd on Broadway. he moves along within the unlimited current of 1000000s. A series of images conveying Wilhelm to his vision and his birth in which he is imagined as a drowning organic structure traveling with the currents under the sea to its concluding resting topographic point: It was he himself who was carried from the street into the chapel. The force per unit area ended indoors. where it was dark and cool. The flow of fan-driven air dried his face. which he wiped hard with his hankie to halt the little salt scabies. He gave a suspiration when he heard the organ notes that stirred and breathed from the pipes and he saw people in the church bench. He is caught in the line of grievers traveling toward the casket. and when he reaches it the brooding expression on the face of the dead alien forces him to step out of the emanation.
Here once more Bellow uses H2O imagination to give us the deeper significance of the action. for all of a sudden it is the dead adult male who is imagined as holding drowned. non Wilhelm. Wilhelm can eventually take a breath. He even wipes his face to free himself of the little salt scabies. All the imagination points to our seeing Wilhelm as all of a sudden saved from submerging. saved because he can now show his deepest emotions. He can love and commiseration world as a whole. The dead adult male was grey. He had two big moving ridges of grey hair at the forepart. But he was non old. His face was long. And he had a bony nose. somewhat. finely distorted. His foreheads were raised as though he had sunk into the concluding idea. Now at last he was with it. after the terminal of all distractions. and when his flesh was no longer flesh. Wilhelm can at last call. The seas of feeling. that have been welling up within him but have ne’er found their natural mercantile establishment before. at last find their release. At the surface degree of intending he can now shout because the funeral is the 1 topographic point where that is non merely allowable but honest. On a deeper degree. nevertheless. he can be drowned in cryings because these are the vitalizing seas of feeling. non the terrorizing Nietzschean moving ridge of life and decease. Soon he was past words. past ground. coherency. He could non halt.
The beginning of all cryings had all of a sudden sprung unfastened within him. black. deep. and hot. and they were pouring out and convulsing his organic structure. flexing his obstinate caput. bowing his shoulders. writhing his face. stultifying the really hands with which he held the hankie. His attempts to roll up himself were useless. The great knot of ailment and heartache in his pharynx swelled upward and he gave in utterly and held his face and wept. He cried with all his bosom. What is important here is Wilhelm’s alteration of character. He has abandoned himself to a desperation which is non simply personal. though it includes himself. A mananother human animal. was what first went through his ideas. The fact of decease. another’s decease. has brought him to a province in which he is utterly inactive and wholly dependent. He now exists entirely in his feelings. non because he has chosen to but because all else has been taken from him. He has been humbled by a great fact of nature. His obstinate caput is bowed. He has been forced into dependence on nature. but we see that this dependence brings him into brotherhood with her. for the of import thing is that he is now afloat on a sea of feeling.
In Bellow’s ain sense of the Wordsworthean vision. Wilhelm has see into the life of things and go. at last. a living psyche. Furthermore. there is hope that he will be buoyed up in this province and have a return of feeling. His miss friend. Olive. loves him and will get married him if he can acquire a divorce. and it is to her that he gives himself at the terminal. In fact the deduction is that his really life is now in her custodies. What makes this concluding scene so impressive as a literary accomplishment is merely this kind of denseness of significance. Wilhelm is the lone individual shouting at the funeral. yet he is the lone alien. One of the suggestions here is that echt sorrow is impersonal. Another is that merely those in whom the psyche is alive can truly mourn. for merely they are capable of this strength of experiencing. Many other illustrations of Bellow’s usage of H2O imagination to back up and intensify his dry vision of the drowning Wilhelm could be cited. The fluctuations of the stock market correspond to. and of class to a big extent determine. the alternations of hope and desperation in Wilhelm’s head ; and when the market clangs when Wilhelm’s stocks go down and he loses the last of his money one can about see Wilhelm crushed beneath Tamkin’s moving ridge of life and decease.
You have to experience the money flow says Tamkin to Wilhelm when he promises him success in the market: To cognize how it feels to be seaweed you have to acquire into the H2O. The stock market itself is symbolic of all the cold. impersonal forces that Wilhelm and Bellow respect as immorality ; and that Wilhelm is tempted by Tamkin to take the dip. that this crushes him but does no serious injury to Tamkin. emphasizes. among other things. the difference between their two natures. Wilhelm is immediately punished for his wickedness. He had betrayed his psyche. Tamkin has no psyche and so can non be punished in this mode. One of the sarcasms in the novel is that Wilhelm’s male parent. who is the prototype of soulless success. is invariably bathing himself. recommends H2O and exercising as the remedy for his son’s wretchednesss. and eventually rejects him wholly while in the steam baths of the hotel’s wellness nine. Wilhelm himself rarely bathes and garbages to utilize the hotel’s swimming pool because he is offended by the odor of the chlorinated H2O.
What is suggested here is that the Waterss of the Earth can prolong the life of the organic structure. can even be used to convey about that brooding composure that comes from complete withdrawal from the emotions ; but to those whose psyches are alive deeper Waterss are needed. and the Waterss of the Earth are instinctively detestable. Bellow’s great accomplishment in Seize the Day is that he eventually forces us to see Wilhelm as a sort of hero. It is easy to lose his purpose and experience merely unhappiness at the terminal of the novel. Wilhelm may at that place look to us merely as a hapless sloven who is crying at what we dimly sense is truly his ain funeral. But Bellow can do beauty out of ugliness. non merely out of what in the custodies of a lesser creative person might hold been simply the squalor of ordinary life but out of a character who even to himself seems abhorrent. Wilhelm refers to himself early in the novel as a blue-eyed Hippopotamus. and this image is repeated many times.
It is his characteristic manner of seeing himself. Though Wilhelm is ugly to himself and a sloven to others. his true component is. however. the Waterss of the religious life. The load of this life. the enduring it contains. is suggested in the ugliness and bulkiness of the Hippo when out of H2O. The weight is removed. nevertheless. and the ugliness transformed into a sense of rightness that is the consequence of being strongly in harmoniousness with nature when the Hippo is in the H2O. So it is with Wilhelm who at the terminal of the novel seizes the twenty-four hours of his soul’s birth. a psyche whose capacity is every bit limitless as the Hippo is big. and floats for the first clip. buoyed up by the greater life into which he has eventually entered