Saul Bellow: Contribution as Canadian-American Author

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      Born in Quebec, Canada and raised in Chicago, Saul Bellow (1915-2005) is of Russian Jewish background. He is the son of the immigrant Russian parents. He moved with his family to Chicago in 1924 and got his education at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University Wisconsin. He followed his academic career from 1938. In college, he studied anthropology and sociology which greatly influenced his writing even today. He has expressed a profound debt to Theodore Dreiser for his openness to a wide range of experiences and his emotional engagement with it. Highly respected, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.

      Bellow’s early, somewhat grim existentialist novels include Dangling Man (1944), a Kafkaesque study of a man waiting to be drafted into the Army, and The Victims (1947) about relations between Jews and Gentiles. In the 1950, his vision became more comic. He used a series of energetic and adventurous first person narrators in The Adventures of Augie March (1953) - the study of a Huck Finn like urban entrepreneur in Europe - and in Henderson the Rain King (1959), a brilliant and exuberant seriocomic novel about a middle-aged millionaire whose unsatisfied ambitions drive him to Africa. Bellow’s Seize the Day (1956) is a brilliant novella often used as part of the high school or college curriculum because of its excellence and brevity. It centers on a failed businessman, Tommy Wilhelm, who tries to hide his feelings of inadequacy by presenting a good front. The novella begins ironically: “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought...” This expenditure of energy ironically helps lead to his downfall. Wilhelm is so consumed by feelings of inadequacy that he becomes totally inadequate - a failure with women, jobs, machines, and the commodities market where he loses all his money.

      Bellow’s later works include Herzog (1964) which is about the doubled life of a neurotic English professor who specializes in the idea of the Romantic Self. It signals a return to a more introspective form. Moses Herzog, the narrator, is possessed of representative modem mind - “Inconstant divided, and oscillating.” He is caught between the isolated ambit of consciousness and place of retreat for formulation of ideal patterns, and the teeming surfaces of society where those patterns seem to be bombarded out of existence by a writer of details: “The human soul is amphibian”. Herzog reflects, “I have touched its sides.” And his own amphibious nature compels him to oscillate hysterically but helplessly. He is a man torn and dangling between pride and humility, self-assertion and self-mockery. He makes forays into the streets, then withdraws. He writes “letters” to establish contacts with the world outside but he does not complete or read them. No more than Augie March, or Bellows’ other protagonists, does he heal this gap in himself, as well as between himself and his world. But, just as much as they, he remains convinced of the possibility of resolution. The conviction stays with him and he closes the story with a sense of peace and promise which seems to exist outside language. At this time, he had no messages to anyone. The novel concludes, “Nothing Not a single word.” The conclusion is equivocal. Since Herzog is our a source of information here, we cannot be sure whether the peace and promise he has found is an assured discovery or a pious hope.

      Bellow has taken us one of the most revelatory explorations into a problem that has haunted many American writers, and taken us then into the novels like, Mr. Sanuuler’s Planet (1970) Humboldt’s Gift (1975) and the autobiographical The Dean’s December (1982). These novels are his most widely admired. The novels best exemplify his reputation for interpreting the struggles of the city dwellers to define their roles and responsibilities in the modern world. Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) won him the National Book award. The later novels are- More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft: A Novella (1989) Ravelstein (2000) and several collections of shorter works: Mosby’s Memoirs and Other Stories (1968), Him with his Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984) and Something to Remember Me By (1993). He was also the author of several plays, including The Wrecker (1954), The Last Analysis (1965), and A Wen (1965) and a travel book about Israel, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976). His academic publications are recent American Fiction: A Lecture (1963), The Future of the Moor (1970), Technology and the Forms of Knowledge (1975) and he edited great Jewish Short Stories (1963). He is the best example of the schlemiel of Jewish folklore-one to whom unlucky things inevitably. Seize the Day sums up the fear of failure that plagued many Americans. He was awarded the Nobel Prize - for Literature in 1976.

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