American life and society as depicted in the novel Seize the Day

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Seize the Day is a notable literary work by Saul Bellow. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of Seize the Day.


Write a note on American life and society as depicted in the novel “Seize the Day.”
Or Saul Bellow’s attitude toward contemporary American Society.

Seize the Day,” published in 1956, is a novel by Saul Bellow (1915-2005). In this novel, Bellow profoundly explores American life and society in the 20th century. This iconic novel focuses on the struggles of the main character, Tommy Wilhelm. Here, we can trace the following points on American life and society as depicted in the novel.

Materialism: The novel portrays the general materialistic mindset of American society. Wilhelm, the protagonist, is constantly pursuing financial success and living up to societal expectations. His desire to succeed in the stock market represents the materialistic mindset of the people. Again, Dr. Adler criticizes Wilhelm’s lack of financial stability, which reflects the materialistic values of the time.

Urban Isolation: The story is set in New York City. This setting highlights the isolation that can accompany urban living. Despite being surrounded by people, Wilhelm feels disconnected and alienated. Wilhelm’s isolation is evident in his interactions with strangers on the street, his wife, and even his own father.

The American Dream: Tommy is financially unstable. He also pursues the idea of getting to the “American Dream” and becoming wealthy. Tamkin manipulates Wilhem by encouraging him to pursue the American dream.

Only the present is real – the here-and-now. Seize the day.

Wilhelm foolishly invests his last seven hundred dollars. Dr. Tamkin cheats on him. Wilhelm is broken inside and out of work.

Father-Son Relationship: The strained relationship between Wilhelm and his father, Dr. Adler, reflects American society. Tommy’s father, Dr. Adler, is a renowned doctor. He is set in stark contrast with Tommy Wilhelm, who is an utter failure. We find a lack of emotional connection between the father and son. Dr. Adler doesn’t truly understand his son, and his disapproval of Wilhelm’s choices deepens their divide. Wilhelm says,

Tamkin… tries to give me a hand, whereas Dad doesn’t want to be disturbed.

Tommy Wilhelm desperately needs his father’s help and sympathy. But his father refuses to give either. As a result, Wilhelm turns to Tamkin, who gives him encouragement and promises easy money for them both.

Alienation and Loneliness: The novel shows the alienation and loneliness that can result from a society focused on material gain. Throughout the day, Wilhelm’s interactions with people—his father, wife Margaret, and even the strangers he meets—underscore his deep alienation.

Existentialism: “Seize the Day” delves into existential themes, questioning the meaning and purpose of life. Wilhelm’s experiences throughout the day, especially his encounter with Tamkin, prompt him to face his own existence and question the value of his pursuits. As Wilhelm says,

Who are you? Who is anyone? What can one do? How does one control these pressures? How does one handle oneself? These were the questions.

Financial Insecurity: The novel portrays the financial struggles faced by many Americans during this period. Wilhelm constantly worries about money.

Everyone was supposed to have money … They’d be ashamed not to have it.

Tommy Wilhelm feels pressure to be financially successful. His desperation to secure a loan from his father and his decision to invest his last savings in the stock market highlight the economic challenges of the time.

Time and Mortality: The title “Seize the Day” emphasizes the fleeting nature of time and the urgency to make the most of life. The characters’ experiences throughout the day highlight the inevitability of mortality and the importance of living fully in the present moment.

Psychological Turmoil: The novella delves into Wilhelm’s psychological turmoil.

But I’ve been playing a part for so long. No one knows me. If I could only come out of myself!

These lines reveal Wilhelm’s internal struggle. It sheds light on the emotional struggles resulting from societal pressures and personal insecurities. This exploration of the human psyche adds depth to the narrative.

In “Seize the Day,” Saul Bellow paints a vivid picture of American life and society in the 20th century. It touches on themes of materialism, existentialism, and the pursuit of financial stability in an increasingly complex world. Through Wilhelm’s experiences, the novel critically examines the American Dream.