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Introduction Saul Bellow's fourth novel, Seize the Day was published as a novella in 1956 in a volume that also included three short stories â A Father-to-Be,â â Looking for Mr. Gree Gonzaga Manuscriptsâ and a play, The Wrecker. Considered by many critics to be Bello w's finest work of fiction, the novella was immediately singled out from among i ts companion pieces as a major work. The powerful impact of Seize the Day comes from its tightly constructed plot; from Bellow's ability to control effectively in a concentrated form such enormous themes as victimization, alienation, and hu man connection; and from his creation of Tommy Wilhelm, one of his most moving p rotagonists. Bellow's work before Seize the Day had attracted the attention of readers and cr itics, but he was particularly praised for his achievement in this fourth novel, which Baker says demonstrates his attainment of full artistic maturity. Seize t he Day deals with themes familiar to readers of Bellow's fiction, such as that o f the father-son relationship, yet in this novella the concentrated structure en abled Bellow to render this theme more intensely. At the heart of the action in Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm's relationship with h is father revolves around Tommy's neediness and his father's disapproval of him. Tommy's problems with his father feed yet another theme of the novel and of Bel low's fiction in general: alienation from oneself and from humanity. Tommy feels cut off not only from his father and from the rest of his family: his sister, h is dead mother, his estranged wife and their two sons-but he also feels alienate d from himself and from everyone he meets. Bellow's ability to treat weighty the mes in Seize the Day , while making Tommy Wilhelm a pitiable yet sympathetic cha racter, explains the success of this novella: it is capable of seizing both the reader's mind and heart. Plot Chapter 1 Saul Bellow's Seize the Day is the story of one day in the life of Wilhelm Adler , a.k.a. Tommy Wilhelm, a man in his mid-forties who is going through a mid-life crisis. As the book opens he is standing outside of the dining room in the resi dential hotel in which he lives, contemplating his troubles and working up the c ourage to go in to breakfast and face his father, who also lives in the Gloriana Hotel. Wilhelm reminisces about how he left school twenty-five years ago in order to go to Hollywood to try to become a movie star. He had at first been approached by a talent scout, Maurice Venice, but even after the screen test went badly and th e scout tried to discourage him, Wilhelm decided to change his name to Tommy Wil helm and go to California. Once there he discovered that Maurice Venice was hims elf a failure and that a recommendation from him was a curse. He nevertheless stayed in Hollywood for seven years, unwillingly to admit defeat . Now, twenty-five years later, he finds himself unemployed, broke, and in despa ir. He is separated from his wife, but she refuses to give him a divorce. He has invested his last money in the commodities market, and he fears it is all lost. And he is endlessly quarreling with his father, who refuses to help Wilhelm and who seems to be ashamed of his son. Chapter 2 Still working up the courage to face his father at breakfast, Wilhelm collects h is mail. He has received a number of bills, including some from his wife, who wa nts him to pay the premiums on some educational insurance plans for their two bo ys. He finally goes into breakfast, where is father introduces him to an elderly man named Mr. Perls. They have a quarrelsome breakfast, Dr. Adler feeling asham ed of his unemployed and slovenly son, and Wilhelm resenting his father's unwill ingness to help him in any way. Dr. Adler presses his son to tell Mr. Perls about his former job as a salesman, which he lost after quarreling with his employers. Wilhelm is disgusted with how
Chapter 7 Wilhelm comes to the painful realization that it was he that had been carrying T amkin on his back. Wilhelm spends the conversation trying to figure out whether Tamkin is trustworthy or not. Dr. and he says that Wilhelm needs to learn to trust and to live in the here and now. and when he sees that some o f their shares have risen. and Wilhelm is attracted to the doctor's ideas. he calls her. She is angr y that he has sent her a post-dated check. Adler and Mr. another resident of the hotel and the man to whom Wilhelm h ad trusted to invest his last seven hundred dollars in the commodities market. and he hopes that perhaps he can h elp him to survive as well. but his father refuses him. Chapter 5 They arrive at the commodities market and take their place next to some friends of Tamkin. They discuss many phi losophical matters. He says that he will see Wilhelm dead before he will allow his son to become a cross for him to bear. He goes to his father to ask for help. but hi s wife continually refused to give him the divorce. As Tamkin tries to show him some methods for focusing on the here and now. the woman he wanted to marry. but before they can enter Mr. yelling at him and telling him that he will not support his grown children . he also believes that T amkin has managed to survive for a long time. especially h is philosophy about living in the present and seizing the day. Chapter 6 They go to lunch and discuss Wilhelm's problems with his wife and father. Perls leaves and Wilhelm and his father continue to argue. He begins to feel that he is on Tamkin's back.focused on money his father and Mr. Searching for Tamkin he comes across a funeral procession. Chapter 3 Mr. Rappaport. Wilhelm recites many of his problems. T he two older men feel that Tamkin is a fraud and a fool. Wilhelm seeks out Tamkin. but his father does not sympathize. a very old man who was sitting next to them earlier. They head to the commod ities market to see how their stocks have done. He receives an urgent message from his wife. Wilhelm wonder s if the doctor is trying to hypnotize or con him. He resolves that he will find Tamkin a nd at least recover the two hundred dollars that the doctor owed him. Wilhelm reveals h ow he tried to get a divorce so that he could marry another woman. but his father refuses to listen. Wilhel m realizes that although Tamkin is probably a charlatan. Wilhelm becomes nervous about the money. Wilhelm reminds him that there are other things besides money that a father ca n give a son. Perls are. When he returns from the cigar store Wilhelm finds that his commodities have dropped so far that he has lost all of his money. Tamkin. greets them. F earing that something has happened to one of his boys. He demands tha t Wilhelm take him to the cigar store. and when Wilhelm protests that he wants t o check on his commodities. They return to the commodities market. His parting advice to Wilhelm is Carry no body on your back. Tamkin pushes him to go with Rappaport. and as he listens to th em Wilhelm again begins to worry about his money. Chapter 4 After leaving the dining room. feeling that everything is the res ult of Wilhelm's poor choices and not wanting to be burdened with caring for his adult children in his last few years. Tamkin is nowhere to be found. but he is suspici ous of Tamkin nonetheless. he wants to sell and recover at least some of their l ost money. Perls begin di scussing Dr. They quarrel. and she blames him for the separation. Wilhelm goes in search of Tamkin. Tamkin insists that they should leave their shares alone. Olive. insisting th at he can learn a lot from the elderly man. He hopes t hat he will be able to start again with Olive. and for his unemployment. and he thinks that he . trust ing the other man to take the necessary steps for him.
Dr. whom he used to see when he was working for the Rojax Corporation. and Dr. Dr. Wilhelm's relationship with his father is at the center of the novel. Adler builds up Wi lky's achievements in an attempt to impress his listeners. Paul is going to be ten. as this errand delays his return to the market. Mr. Wilky. Mr. This fact gives Wilhelm hope as he invests his last few hundred dollars. although in truth he is not proud of his son. He also refuses to help his daughter. Rappaport meets him outside and asks him to take him across the street to the c igar store. Dr . Characters Adler. particularly because neith er one has been especially successful.sees Tamkin in the crowd. : Another elderly resident of the Hotel Gloriana and a friend of Dr. Perls is introduced to Wilhelm as having been a hosiery wholesaler. According to Tamkin. Rappaport. As Wilhelm returns to the brokerage office after leaving for lunch. When he talks about his son to friends and acquaintances. He c alls his father a â hummuspotamus. his emotional inte nsity. Mr. whom he continues to call by his childhood n ame. Adler is unmoved. he is swept into the churc h. Perls. Tommy/Wilky disgusts Dr. He tells his son that if he were to help him by givi ng him money to cover his bills. Adler is a handsome. Adler for money to rent a gallery for an exhibition of her work. As he tries to get closer. : Wilhelm sits near Mr. : Rappaport is the blind old retired chicken merchant whom Wilhel m sits near in the brokerage office. Tommy sees Margaret as unbending. He sobs uncontrollably. she refuses to get a job. Adler in his sloppiness. he does not have as much to lose as W ilhelm does. Margaret : Margaret is Tommy Wilhelm's estranged wife. Tamkin claims to be a psychologist but turns out . She is a painter and has asked Dr. Dr. Dr. He wanted to marry her. but h e refuses to lend money to his son. Dr. Margaret will not divorce Wilhelm. He is ove rwhelmed by grief at the death of the stranger. but Wilhelm perceives from his appearance that he has had a difficult life. Adler l ives at the Hotel Gloriana in New York but in an entirely different world from h is son. variants: Dad and Father: Tommy Wilhelm's elderly father. Tamkin : The mysterious Dr. Rowland. Get off! Catherine variant: Philippa: Wilhelm's younger sister. Mr. He has retired from his medical practice and is financially secure. Wilhelm thinks of Rubin as the kind of man who knew. Paul variant: Paulie: Tommy Wilhelm's younger son. When he does return.' or hippopotamus. Wilhelm reluctantly agrees. Adler's. Catherine has taken a pro fessional name. and the other mourners wonder who he is and how he knew the deceased. it would only make Tommy/Wilky dependent on him . remorselessly unbending. Rowland in the brokerage office as they wat ch the progress of their stocks. but their marriage was preve nted by Margaret's refusal to divorce Wilhelm. Perls is eager to know the details of Wil helm's salary and position at the Rojax Corporation. explaining himself by declaring I want nobody on my back. Rowland supports himself o n his earnings from the stock market. Adler is impat ient with his son's apparent lack of initiative. Olive : Wilhelm's girlfriend in Roxbury. Wilhelm only conti nues to sob. and eventually finds himself looking at the dead man in the casket. and his seeming inability to make a good decision. Wilhelm envies Rappaport's ability to remai n calm about the fluctuating stock market. Wilhelm also despises his father's need to impress Pe rls by boasting about his children's accomplishments. whom he claims is killing him by constantly demanding money from him. Although Tommy/Wilky pleads with his father to care for him. but he refuses to support her. well-dressed man who is respected by all who kno w him. who also wants his financial assistance. orderly. Philippa. and because she is raising their two boys. His presence at breakfast annoys Wilhelm: he sees Perls as his father's way of avoi ding being alone with him. he learns he is ruined. Rubin : The well-dressed Rubin is the man at the newsstand in the Hotel Gloriana where Tommy Wilhelm lives. Nei ther Wilhelm nor his father thinks Catherine has talent. and Wilhelm is disgusted by his intense interest in money. and knew and knew.
abandoning college. Tamkin tells Wilhelm incredible stories about his work with his patients and ins ists that I have to do good wherever I can.) . he is feeling as though all of hi s bad decisions are coming together to choke him. Dr. the name he chooses when he goes to Hollywood. When Wilhelm realizes he has been ruined on the stock market and can't find Tamkin. his childhood name. the Yiddish name his old grand father had called him. he repeatedly says things like I just can't catch my breath and that he feels congested and about to burst. so he makes himself trust this man with a hypnotic power in his eyes. his father doe s not approve of him. the older of his two boys. slovenly. Tamkin remai ns a mystery to Wilhelm. out of work. a subject that resonates with Wilhelm. He presents to Wilhelm his belief th at in each human being there are two main [souls]. 4. He has left his wife and their two sons. Maurice Venice : Maurice Venice is the shady talent scout who approached the han dsome young Wilhelm Adlernow Tommy Wilhelmwith the idea that he go out to Hollyw ood to try to become a star. interprets his pleas for help as being merely financ ial. Gale Research. he is speaking about alienation from oneself. He feels bitterly that the world has a sort of hugging relis h for money: Everyone was supposed to have money. like Wilhelm and Dr. Tommy Wilhelm. In spite of his philosophical revelations. although his wife will not give hi m a divorce and he misses his sons terribly. He is estranged from his mistress. but w hile his father. Wilhelm is not completely surprised to un derstand at last that Tamkin is a fake. . Tommy Wilhelm variant: Wilky: Middle-aged. Wilhelm's conversations with his father center on Wilhelm's need for help. Yet he made his first great mistake by giving in to Venice's pressure. Olive. . Emotional rather than rational. or Velvel. Wilhelm's father calls Tamkin c unning . Adler. Wilhelm feels alone in the wo rld." in Novels for Students . They'd be ashamed not to have it. however. es tranged from his wife and arguing with his father. an operator. Wilhelm had a warning sense that Venice protested t oo much about his credentials. and although he and his father live under the same roof of the Hotel Gloriana. Tommy : Tommy is Tommy Wilhelm's 14-year-old son. and going to Hollywood only to find wh en he got there that a recommendation from Maurice Venice was the kiss of death. lives at the Hotel Gloriana. (Source: "Seize the Day. On the day portrayed in the novel. Essentially. Tommy Wilhelm is the protagon ist of Bellow's novel.to be a con artist: he tricks Tommy Wilhelm into giving him his last seven hund red dollars to invest while assuring Tommy that this investment will make him we althy. He does not see his only sister. Vol. . Wilhelm's inner confusion is represented in part by his confusion over which name is his true name: Wilky. . down to his last few dollars and is extremely self-conscious about his lack of money. Wilhelm is. overweight. Adler. Wilhelm also is asking for his father's approval and some kindness. Wilhelm tends to make bad decisions. his mother died years ago. 1998. and the men know each other through a nightly card game. Tamkin. In addition to being on the verge of financial ruin. but Wilhelm wants to believe that Tamkin can make him rich. who never quite comes to trust him fully. the real soul and a pretender soul. who has s lipped away from the brokerage office. .
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