Seize the Day of Reckoning

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Seize the Day of Reckoning

Seize the Day of Reckoning, Reconciliation, and Redemption

Lee Chien-mei

    Department of English

    Aletheia University


    Saul Bellow‟s novella Seize the Day (1956) depicts within one day its

    protagonist Tommy Wilhelm‟s past guilt, present agony, and future possibility. It‟s an

    epitome of the American myth of successAmerican dream. The possibilities for

    self-creation, material success, and absolute freedom are the basis of the alluring American myth, but the odds (for success) are more often against than for the eager pursuers. Tommy Wilhelm is both inspired and burdened by the American myth of success. But on this day, one disaster follows another, driving Wilhelm to lament that it is a day of reckoning. Jobless, separated from his wife and children, unable to marry his mistress, and with overdue rent to pay, he clings to his successful father for economic and emotional support, which the old man flatly rejects on the ground of deserving a peaceful mind and life at the old age. Then taking the advice to “seize the

    day” given by his mentor and substitute father Dr. Tamkin, Tommy invests his last

    money on the commodities market. But it turns out to be a bad investment, and he loses all his money while Tamkin simply escapes. On the verge of total breakdown, Tommy, unable to breathe freely, feels being drawn further downward in the trouble waters. On this day of reckoning, his ignominious pastchanging name (renouncing

    his real identity), failed careers, womanizing, etc. flashes back in his mind by fits

    and starts, aggravating the already chaotic present, and he has to comes to termsreconciliationwith his father, wife, children, past life, present plight, gloomy future, especially with himself, the wrong kind of Jew in the modern/material society, before he can gain redemption for his soul. Paradoxically, feeling sinking downward and about to be drowned, he is driven to a funeral house where he finally relinquishes his egoistic-self and comes to reconcile with himself. When looking down at the dead man‟s face, he sees himself (and his father), and starts to cry to his

    heart‟s content. All the unpleasantness passes through like soothing sea waves.

    Drowned in his cathartic tears, ultimately Tommy reaches the consummation of his heart‟s desire at a stranger‟s funeral. The day is at last saved through reckoning (of

    past errors), reconciliation (with present plight) and redemption (of his anguish soul)a reciprocal process.

Keywords: seize the day, reckoning, reconciliation, redemption


    The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Saul Bellow in 1976 honored both his humanism and his literary achievement in the field of contemporary American fiction (Bradbury 174). Rich in political and philosophical ideas, and touched with the

heritage of modernism, Bellow‟s work displays a deep Jewish humanism—a concern

    to affirm mankind, to explore moral and metaphysical questions, to conform the characteristic Jewish themes of victimization and alienation, and to gain in a material world for transcendental perceptions (Bradbury 169). Bellow‟s heroes are concerned

    to defend their inner claim to self against a modernizing world where man seems to have lost his place, and where beyond the individual is the massive, determining transforming city, the world of human diminution; they are often driven by mental and emotional desire to reforge their place with others, with the human condition, with the universe in all its scale (Bradbury 169-170).

    To control or to give, to master or to revere, to survive or to enjoy, to will or to love—the center of Bellow‟s fiction lies within this general tension. Vacillating

    between a need to be loved and withdrawal from a world which does not love him as he wishes, Bellow‟s protagonist is also an American hero groping toward manhood

    (Opdahl 6). In Seize the Day (1956), the contrast between Tommy Wilhelm and his father, Dr. Adler, is that between a man of love who seeks joy within the limits of his nature and a hard-boiled man of will who would impose his desires upon the world (Opdahl 5). However, The ultimate concern is basically metaphysical and religious, passing from the historic fact to the larger, universal issue (Opdahl 6). All of Bellow‟s novels deal with family conflict, but Seize the Day is unique in

    that it is his only work which attempts to explore the relationship between father and son against a backdrop of a complex view of the dissolution of the Jewish-American family (Goldman 62). As an assimilated Jew, Tommy has equivocal Jewish values. For example, family is important to him, yet he breaks away from his family twice: the first time he quits school (against his parents‟ expectation) to go to Hollywood; the

    second time he seeks to divorce his wife and marry a Catholic girlfriend. He also doesn‟t know how to show the reverence for the patriarch of the family that is so

    much a part of Jewish heritage. The problems of father and son are further complicated by a cultural schism: the father, a product of German upbringing, manifests German mannerisms, while the son possesses qualities that are antithetical to the German mind. The discord in the family is heightened by the fact that both father and son are at crucial stages of their lives: the father is an octogenarian, facing the end of his days, while the son is middle-aged, attempting to grasp the significance of his life (Goldman 62-63).

    The parent-child relationship is fundamental in Judaism because it is recognized

    that the survival of Jewish life depends on this bond (Goldman 63). Judaism is only viable in a patriarchal society, and the tradition of honoring one‟s parents remains a

    vital aspect of the Jewish child‟s life (Goldman 63). As the family chief authority, the

    father commands and rebukes; however, his duty to his son which requires the provision of maintenance and education lasts until the son reaches the age of six, anything beyond that would come under “charity” (Goldman 64). In Seize the Day,

    the son is already forty-four years old.

    The immediate problem in Seize the Day is presented in terms of the son‟s appeal

    to his father for help. Tommy Wilhelm, “an anomaly in Bellow‟s canon,” is caught in

    a tight financial bind (Atlas 236). He has quit his job and has no income. Yet he must meet the constant demands of the hotel manager for his rent, and of his wife, from whom he is separated, for their two sons and her own support. Foolishly he uses his last money to speculate in the commodities market, and loses all. At the end of his resources, he turns to his father for help, but is turned down. This of course brings forth the cardinal conflict: the dominating, respectable, independent, secure father against the oppressed, debased, dependent, insecure son (Goldman 66). Only through a general reckoning and reconciliation with past guilt and blunders could resolution be attained and the possibility of redemption be realizable.

    The ambiguity of Seize the Day, especially the ending, reflects the dilemma portrayed in all of Bellow‟s fiction. “Seize” denotes aggression; to live fully man must

    assert his will against circumstance (Opdahl 118). To seize the “Day,” however,

    suggests an acceptance of the present moment. If he accepts the limitations of fate, man finds joy instead of the agony of fruitless rebellion. In Seize the Day, it is Dr. Tamkin who exhorts Wilhelm to seize the day so that he won‟t hesitate in going along

    with him on the speculative venture in the commodities market (Goldman 82). Gullible and reckless, Wilhelm falls prey to this enticement. As the phrase carpe diem is used by Horace, the emphasis is upon the word “seize.” What Horace means to say

    is that one should make every moment count. In contrast, the emphasis placed upon this phrase by Tamkin accentuates “day.” This is the thought that is romanticized in

    the mind of Wilhelm. He sees life composed, not as a broad panorama of human experiences, but rather as a disjointed series of days. He can‟t see the perspective of

    his whole life spreading before him. This myopic view of Wilhelm‟s pinpoints the

    conflict between himself and his father in their outlooks on life (Goldman 83). Dr. Adler gives his son wise advices to deal with his life honestly and pragmatically; even Margaret, his separated wife, implores Wilhelm to observe that his life is slipping through his fingers. But Wilhelm sees only what is in front of him: today‟s problem,

    the rent bill, money for his wife and children, the tears that are flooding his eyes. That is his tragedy. Tamkin gives him the correct aphorism, but with wrong intention, and

Tommy learns his lesson at a costly price.

    Viewed from another perspective, Seize the Day portrays a problem rather than its solution. There is no doubt that Wilhelm is weak and masochistic, but there is even less doubt that his final grief is a triumph of greater depth than purgation or self-knowledge. The water imagery contains dual possibilities: a symbol of the rigorous life forces which destroy Wilhelm and a transcendent reality which raises him above destruction (Opdahl 98). Stripped of all recourse, thrown back upon his inner self, at the end Wilhelm, following the path described by William James as that of conversion, “suspends his will, forgoes the world, and is flooded with the sense of

    transcendence” that ultimately sets him free (Opdahl 99).

    There is yet another angle to view Tommy Wilhelm. Bellow draws him with broad strokes of Dickensian caricature. His unadmirable personality discourages sympathetic emotion. He drinks Coca-Cola before breakfast, carries old cigarette butts in his pocket, and sobs in self-pity at the loss of a dog. He is larger than life, with a

hulking body to match his gargantuan emotions, “Though he called himself a

    hippopotamus, he more nearly resembled a bear.”


    Bellow treats him with both

    humor and pathos, but Wilhelm remains what most reviewers found him to bea

    “despicable and dirty character” (Lynch 238). K. M. Opdahl thinks the distance

    created by Wilhelm‟s characterization is essential to Bellow‟s art in that Bellow needs

    this distance to portray the inhumanity he sees within man and he also needs a Tommy Wilhelm, dirty and despicable as he may be, to achieve an affirmation of something higher (100).

    There are seven sections in Seize the Day. In the first three, over breakfast Wilhelm talks with this retired father, who denies him the moral and financial support he begs. In the second three, during a second breakfast, a trip to the brokerage and then lunch, Wilhelm receives professions of such aid from Tamkin, his substitute father. He returns to the market alone after lunch to find himself wiped out and Tamkin, to whom he lent money, gone. When his wife and his father make their final demands on him, the seventh and the last section becomes a simple culmination of Wilhelm‟s day. His climatic grief in the funeral parlor is a final humiliation, fulfilling

    the imaginative logic of his defeat, and the only triumph possible, an equal fulfillment of his situation and character.

    The Day of Reckoning

    Seize the Day depicts the death throes of a drowning man, Tommy Wilhelm, who faces complete submergence in failure. Wilhelm begins his day by plunging downward in a hotel elevator to a city sunk metaphorically beneath the sea. The New 1

    Saul Bellow, Seize The Day (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 27. Subsequent citation is from this

    version and abbreviated as SD.

    York streets carry a tide of Broadway traffic which is the current of the city. The baroque hotel he sees from the lobby windows looks “like the image of itself reflected

    in deep water, white and cumulous above, with cavernous distortions underneath” (SD

    9). Although Wilhelm struggles to keep the waters of the earth from rolling over him, he looks like a man about to drown. He has foolishly quit his job and has no money to meet the demands of his wife, who seeks to punish him for leaving her. His relations with his elderly father, whom he has denied by changing his name, reach the breaking point. He finally loses the little money he has left on the commodities market, where he had speculated at the urging of a phony psychologist, Dr. Tamkin. Amidst the chaotic turmoil of the day, the past and the present flash back and forth in Wilhelm‟s mind, reminding him of having been a failed actor, schlemiel,

    feeble husband, disappointing son, and a duped fool. At present, he is unemployed, impecunious, separated from his wife (who refuses to agree to a divorce), and estranged from his children and his father. He is also stuck with the same immaturity and lack of insight which has brought him to failure. Feeling like being drowned and

    unable to breathe freely, Wilhelm is forced to examine his past guilt, present agony and future possibility: “Oh, this was a day of reckoning. It was a day, he thought, on

    which, willing or not, he would take a good close look at the truth” (SD 103). Earlier

    he also senses this is the “judgment” day: “But today, his day of reckoning, he

    consulted his memory again and thought, I must go back to that. That‟s the right clue

    and may do me the most good. Something very big. Truth. Like” (SD 91). So, on this

    day of reckoning, Wilhelm needs to find out the “truth” of his life to gain redemption.

    But what is the truth?

    The world of Seize the Day appears to be the urban wasteland represented by the sepulchral Hotel Gloriana, in which Wilhelm, his father, Dr. Tamkin and a bunch of independent old/retired people live as their home.


    Out of work as a salesman,


    and estranged from his wife and children, Tommy Wilhelm finds himself nearly penniless in early middle-age. He chooses to live in the same hotel with his well-to-do father, hoping he will get financial aid. However, his father, Dr, Adler, only wishes to enjoy his old life without disturbance. Moreover, Wilhelm hasn‟t been such a loser

    and a wrong kind of Jew as he is now. As a young man, he had rejected his father‟s

    profession, medicine, tried for a career in Hollywood, been tricked by a phony talent scout, and failed. Later, he has had a career in sales but lost his sales district due to nepotism. Now, he is in the dreadful Hotel Gloriana amidst the aging capitalist fathers of a previous era who reject him for failing to fulfill their notions a masculine 2

    Richard Chase thinks Seize the Day reproduces with accuracy “the bleak

    gerontocracy,” gathering

    there from all parts of New York and Europe “the senior citizens,” including “the forlorn octogenarians,

    the wistful widowers, the grimy, furtive old women” ( 31).


    James Atlas says Tommy Wilhelm, like Arthur Miller‟s Willy Lowman, is “a failed

    salesman” (237).

    American achievement. They do not value his values of love, feeling, and compassion. To make it worse, he is conned out of his remaining cash, and almost out of human hope. Ultimately, he is reduced to a man utterly exhausted, unable so much as to feel his despair until the wrenching final page (Odysseus 9).

    Rejected both by his father and his wife, Tommy is bitter, weighed down by grief, living on self-pity and pillsa victim and a masochist—and seeing “a cold, alien

    world which reflects his own isolation; what he sees, he is” (Clayton, “Alienation”


    And was everybody crazy here? What sort of people did you see? 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. If you want to talk about a glass of water, you had to start back with God creating the heavens and earth; the apple . . . who else was there to talk to in a city like New York? (SD 90)

    Of course Tommy, like all of Bellow‟s heroes, does not want to cut himself off from

    other men. He longs for merger into community, and, as we shall see, knows moments of loving communality. However, before that, his attachments have been to the cold nipple of the coke bottle and to the fantasy father, Dr. Tasmkin, who, even more terrible than the real father, persecutes him and exploits his last cash. A moral masochist, Tommy Wilhelm is actually his own most difficult obstacle, his own worst enemy (Clayton, “Alienation” 80). What he believes to be his troubles

    are not his real troubles. He allows Margaret to place burden upon burden on him, when he knows that “No court would have awarded her the amounts he paid” (SD 34).

    He chooses to live with a cold, carping father in a hotel for retired people. He chooses, out of pride, to leave the company where he had been employed, and does not look for other work. In his own view, he is “still paying heavily for his mistakes” (SD 34). But

    who hasn‟t made some mistakes in his/her life? Thus, it never occurs to Wilhelm that he might not deserve to be sympathized.

    Actually, most of Wilhelm‟s troubles are self-imposed. Throughout his life he has

    made bad decisions he knew in advance to be bad. He had decided that it would be a bad mistake to go to Hollywood and then he went. Though he has doubt about Tamkin‟s “deeper things of life”--absurdist philosophy, mangled Freudianism,

    alienation ethics, and cheap nihilism--Wilhelm still trusts his last money to him (SD 74). While Tommy longs for accessible, sensible truths, Tamkin assures him there are only crooked lines. When Tommy asks him where he gets his ideas from, Tamkin ironically replies he reads “the best literature, science, and philosophy” (SD 77). In

    his carpe diem sermon, Tamkin tells Tommy to take no thought of tomorrow because the past is “no good” and the future is “full of anxiety” (SD 72). Despite all this,

    Tommy seems naively determined to recover the good, and seek simplicity. In his relation with his father, Tommy constantly provokes his father into punishing him. Knowing his father‟s attitude toward his drug-taking, Tommy

    nevertheless swallows a phenaphen in front of him. He indulges in sloppy habits which disgust the old man. When he makes a scene in the restaurant, choking himself in demonstration of what Margaret does to him, he certainly knows that his father will snap. “What a dirty devil this son of mine is. Why can‟t he try to sweeten his

    appearance a little,” Dr. Adler laments (SD 47). Tommy knows well he is tiring his

    father‟s patience, but he can‟t help himself (Clayton, “Alienation” 80). On this day of

    reckoning, when Wilhelm goes to his father for the last time for helppaying the

    hotel‟s monthly rent, Dr. Adler is so roused that he cries angrily to him, “Go away

    from me now. It‟s a torture for me to look at you, you slob!” (SD 117).

    Yet Wilhelm only dimly suspects his self-destructive impulse. He sees himself as a victim: “It isn‟t my fault”—fate, the world, the hotel clerk are against him. He

    believes that he is simply unfortunate and is being murdered. “You must realize,

you‟re killing me,” he tells his wife. “Thou shalt not kill! Don‟t you remember that?”

    (SD 120). When his father gives him advice, he reflects on how much the old man is not giving him. The city itself is against him, slapping parking tickets on his car or frightening him with handbills that look like tickets (Clayton, “Alienation” 81). But

    Tommy sees in the city what he is himself. Is the city grasping, money sucking, self-centered? So too is Tommy, who tries to drink or eat his way back to childhood security, who begs for love and pity. Tommy hates the city as he hates his own “pretender” soul (Clayton, “Alienation” 81). Yet he has chosen the city, and will come

    to see this mistake only later when he is caught by the riotous fluctuation of commodity market, “I‟ll get out of here. I don‟t belong in New York any more” (SD


    Tommy luxuriates in his suffering and he sees himself as a sacrificial victim. Both doctors, his own father and Tamkin, tell him: “You make too much of your

    problems. . . . They ought not to be turned into a career” (his father) (SD 50); “Don‟t

    marry suffering. Some people do” (Tamkin) (SD 105). Although realizing that his

    father only “wanted to be left in peace” (SD 48), Tommy kept pestering him for help

    until his father‟s “old face lost all of its composure and became hard and angry,”

    enumerating a series of errors Tommy had made: “I didn‟t run around with fifty

    women . . . I was not a Hollywood star. I didn‟t have time to go to Cuba for a vacation.

    I stayed at home and took care of my children” (SD 55). Dr. Adler also questioned

    Tommy of losing his job and wanting to get a divorce. However, Tommy only complained:

    Ah, Father, Father! It‟s always the same thing with you. Look how you lead

    me on. You always start out to help me with my problems, and be sympathetic and so forth. It gets my hopes up and I begin to be grateful. But before we‟re

    through I‟m a hundred times more depressed than before. Why is that? You have no sympathy. You want to shift all the blame on to me. Maybe you are wise to do it. And I‟m your son. It isn‟t my fault in the first place. . . . All you

    seem to think about is your death. Well, I‟m sorry. But I‟m going to die too. . . .

    So you can lay the whole responsibility on me—so that you won‟t have to help

    me? D‟you want me to comfort you for having such a son? (SD 58)

    Apparently, Wilhelm thinks his father should help me as he is his son and that‟s

    reason enough. But his father insists that “he had a right to be left in peace” (SD 59).

    On this day of reckoning, both father and son bring out a long list of the events in their lives and try to justify their own position. Seeing his father was still unmoved, Wilhelm continued to appeal: “Don‟t you think I know how you feel? I have pity I

    want you to live on and on. If you outlive me, that‟s perfectly okay by me” (SD 60).

    Dr. Adler didn‟t respond to him, and Tommy suddenly burst out:

    No, but you hate me. And if I had money you wouldn‟t. By God, you have to

    admit it. The money makes the difference. Then we would be a fine father and son, if I was a credit to youso you could boast and brag about me all over

    the hotel. But I‟m not the right type of son. I‟m too old. I am too old and

    unlucky. (SD 60)

Dr. Adler‟s response is “I want nobody on my back. Get off! And I give you the same

    advice, Wilky. Carry nobody on your back” (SD 60). Getting nowhere with money

    from his father, Wilhelm was mad at himself.

    Ass! Idiot! Wild Boar! Dumb mule! Slave! Lousy, wallowing hippopotamus! Wilhelm called himself as his bending legs carried him from the dining-room. His pride! His inflamed feelings! His begging and feebleness! And trading insults with his fatherand spreading confusion over everything. Oh, how

    poor, contemptible, and ridiculous he was! When he remembered how he had said with great reproof, „You ought to know your own son‟—why, how corny

    and abominable it was. (SD 61)

    Deeply hurt by his father “callousness,” his body was so worked up that he “smelled

    the salt ordour of tears in his nose” (SD 61). Yet on this day of reckoning, he has to

    face himself honestly because “there were depths in Wilhelm not suspected by himself”

    (SD 62). He somehow senses that

    the business of life, the real businessto carry his peculiar burden, to feel

    shame and impotence, to taste these quelled tearsthe only important

    business, the highest business was being done. Maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here.

    Maybe he was supposed to make them and suffer from them on this earth. And though he had raised himself above Mr Perls and his father because they adored money, still they were called to act energetically and this was better than to yell and cry, pray and beg, poke and blunder and go by fits and starts and fall upon the thorns of life. And finally sink beneath that watery floorwould that be tough luck, or would it be good riddance? (SD 61-62) This kind of understanding and reconciliation does not last long, for ere long he “raged once more against his father,” and justifies himself that “It isn‟t the money, but

    only the assistance; not even assistance, but just the feeling” (SD 63). After failing to

    win his father‟s support, Wilhelm turns to Tamkin, the substitute father. Although he

    has some doubt about this Dr. Tamkinhis father has warned him of this fishy

    character, he gives all his last money to Tamkin‟s for investment. He persuades

    himself that it is the only thing that he can do now.

    Could he trust Tamkincould he? He feverishly, fruitlessly sought an answer. But the time for this question was past, and he had to trust him now. After a long struggle to come to a decision, he had given him the money. Practical judgment was in abeyance. He had worn himself out, and the decision was no decision. How had this happened? But how had his Hollywood career begun? It was not because of Mauruice Venice, who turned out to be a pimp. It was because Wilhelm himself was ripe for the mistake. His marriage, too, had been like that. Through such decisions somehow his life had taken form. And so, from the moment when he tasted the peculiar flavor of fatality in Dr Tamkin, he could no longer keep back the money. (SD 63)

    Three major “mistakes” are listed here—pursuing a Hollywood career, marriage with

    Margaret, trusting Tamkin. However, instead of still considering himself a victim, Wilhelm needs to find the depth in him and achieve reconciliation for possible redemption.

    The Day of Reconciliation

    The main conflicts in Seize the Day are mainly between father/son,


    man/society, and husband/wife. Thus, on this day of reckoning, how to achieve reconciliation in these aspects becomes essential for possible redemption. First of all, Tommy Wilhelm “was not really so slovenly” as his father takes him to be, for in

    some aspects, “he even had a certain delicacy,” and he still has faith in himself (SD

    47). He naively thinks that his father should and would help him with real money after his persistent pleading as a miserable son and a victim without luck of the cruel society, but Dr. Adler apparently thinks otherwise.


    Daniel Weiss regards the relationship and conflict between father and son as a major theme is Seize

    the Day (114).

However, though crying angrily at Wilhelm, “You want to make yourself into my

    cross. But I am not going to pick up a cross. I‟ll see you dead, Wilky, by Christ,

    before I let you do that to me,” Dr. Adler is not completely disinterested in his son‟s

    welfare (SD 117). On the contrary, in the typical role of the Jewish father, he still wants to instruct his son by encouraging him to forge his own path in life. The obstacle is that Tommy is too selfish to see it that way. In his narrow view, his father simply wants to selfishly enjoy his own life without being disturbed by anyone, including his sole son. Here, it must be remembered that Bellow‟s old men are

    patriarchal figures and are depicted with veneration. It is the youth who are treated harshly by Bellow, and such is the case with Tommy Wilhelm (Goldman 69). Wilhelm equates money with love; thus, if his father will give him money, it will be the proof of his love for him. When he pleads for money, his reasoning is that “It isn‟t all a

    question of money” (SD 117). Yet, that is what he wants from his father. Money is the

    only thing he understands; he visualizes it as the only salvation to his problems. He isn‟t honest with himself when he reflects: “Other people with money, while they‟re

    still alive, want to see it do some good. Granted, he shouldn‟t support me. But have I

    ever asked him to do that? . . . . It isn‟t the money, but only the assistance; not even

    assistance, but just the feeling” (SD 62). Actually, throughout out the story, Dr. Adler

    has given enough wise advices to his son in regard to his health, his appearance, his marriage, his career, and his relationship with women. It is not until the very end that he knows his son is “so low on funds” (SD 116). By that time, he has hardened

    his heart and wouldn‟t help Wilhelm with his money problem. In fact, Wilhelm knows

    fully well what his father expects of him, “a young, smart successful son,” and he fails

    to be such a son (SD 50).

    Dr. Adler rejects the equal status of money, assistance, and love; life is an

    intellectual process to which the emotions are subordinate (Goldman 70). 5


    emphasis on love accentuates the schism between father and son, but it also blinds him to a realistic assessment of his situation (Goldman 70). He considers his father selfish for not helping him out and questions whether he had “lost his family sense”

    (SD 15). Yet we do not see Wilhelm recognize either family obligations or even an obligation to his father. The fifth commandment, which has become a universal doctrine, puts the obligation on the child. “Honor thy father and they mother.” As “the

    wrong kind of Jew” (SD 93), Wilhelm‟s respect for the wishes for his “old man” is

    absent (Goldman 70).


    Thus, knowing himself is not “the right type of son,” Wilhelm


    Daniel Weiss holds a different view of Dr. Adler as a fine, old, clean and immaculate scientist, whose

    “entire philosophy of life is costive, parsimonious,” and to him, love means

    expenditure and he cannot

    give it (134).


    Paul Levine points out that Jewish literature is always concerned with “the rights of the father” and

    most Jewish-American fiction is, in fact, taken up with the relationship between fathers and sons as in

    Seize the Day; the father/son relationship is used to illustrate the costs of upward mobility (74).

    needs to reconcile himself with his father, and learn to bear his own burden/cross of life as a grown-man (already forty-four) should (SD 60). Yet, we‟ll have to wait till

    the final scene when Wilhelm looks at a stranger‟s dead face and experiences an

    epiphany of common human destiny and human love for all.

    Besides his “cruel” father, the “cold” society is another source of Wilhelm‟s

    misery and grudge. It would help to point out that Saul Bellow never draws away from the frightening implications of an impersonal, mechanical society (Dutton 1). 7

    The distinctive achievement of Bellow, however, lies in his depiction of the individual in such a society, for it is the plight of the man, not society, that is emphasized throughout his works. In Bellow‟s world, society is rendered in an almost naturalistic

    manneras an almost unchanging, indifferent, yet powerful background against which his protagonists in all of their sensitive awareness, their vitality, their frustrating absurdities, are seen (Dutton 1). Thus, it becomes an important issue for Bellow‟s hero “in all of his individuality, with his dreams, aspirations, and idealism,

    along with his ever-present awareness of society as a naturalistic reality” to “find a

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