Saul Bellow / Seize the Day BY 0608 Saul Bellows novella Seize the Day depicts its protagonist Tommy Wilhelm’s past guilt, present agony, and future possibility within his day of reckoning. As a matter of fact, Bellow paints a psychological portrait of Wilhelm revealing his darkest thoughts, his moments of Joy and his moments of despair. As a reader, you quickly gain an intimate understanding of the many contradic impulses that make you pity and at the same time criticize his character. The author demonstrates with the help of haracterization, symbolism and imagery.
Seize the Day depicts the death throes of a drowning man, Tommy Wilhelm, who faces complete submergence in failure. 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. 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 upport, which the old man flatly rejects on the ground of deserving a peaceful mind and life at the old age.
Tommy’s unguarded good nature pervades the book. He’s affable, open-hearted and trusting thus feeling pity for him is not surprising. 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. Wilhelm begins his day by plunging downward in a hotel elevator to a city sunk metaphorically beneath the sea. The New York streets carry a tide of Broadway traffic hich 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” . 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 oney he has left on the commodities market, where he had speculated at the urging ofa phony psychologist, Dr. Tamkin. 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, edicine, 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 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 espair until the wrenching final page. There is yet another angle to view Tommy Wllnelm , tnrougnout tne novella Wllnelm Olv10es nls tlme Detween selt- destructiveness and self-pity. When his father gives him advice, he reflects on how much the old man is not giving him. The city itself is against him, like slapping parking tickets on his car. As moral masochist,he believes that he is simply unfortunate and is being murdered and sees himself as a victim. iou must realize, you’re killing me,” he tells his wife. “Thou shalt not kill! Don’t you remember that? Tommy Wilhelm is actually his own most difficult obstacle, his own worst enemy . 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. Wilhelm is weak and masochistic. 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. Rejected both by his father and his wife, Tommy is bitter, weighed down by grief, living on self-pity and pills??”a victim of himself. 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” . 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”. 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. Therefore, most of Wilhelm’s troubles are self-imposed, throughout his life he has made bad decisions he knew in advance to be bad. 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 ates the city as he hates his own “pretender” soul (Clayton, “Alienation” 81). To conclude, Drowned in his cathartic tears, ultimately Tommy reaches the consummation of his heart’s desire at a stranger’s funeral. 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 past??”changing 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 o terms??”reconciliation??”with 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.
The day is at last saved through reckoning (of past errors), reconciliation (with present plight) and redemption (of his anguish soul)??”a reciprocal process. Tommy luxuriates in his suffering and he sees himself as a sacrificial victim. So, on this day of reckoning, Wilhelm needs to find out the “truth” of his life to gain redemption. But what is the truth?