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.
How did Tommy Wilhelm get his freedom in ‘Seize the Day“?
“Seize the Day” is a novella by Saul Bellow (1915-2005), published in 1956. The story follows the protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm, as he navigates through a day filled with personal and financial struggles. Throughout the novel, Tommy seeks a sense of freedom from his internal and external conflicts.
However, it’s important to note that Tommy’s journey in the story doesn’t necessarily lead to a definitive sense of freedom in the traditional sense. Instead, his pursuit of freedom is more about self-discovery and acceptance. Here, we discuss how Tommy Wilhelm’s quest for freedom unfolds in “Seize the Day.”
Tommy’s Financial Struggles: At the beginning of the novella, Tommy is facing significant financial difficulties. He has lost his job and is heavily in debt. His quest for freedom is intertwined with his desire to resolve these financial issues and achieve stability. As the narrator says in Chapter 2,
Everyone was supposed to have money … They’d be ashamed not to have it.
Tommy Wilhelm feels pressure to be financially successful, and because he is not, he feels ashamed in the face of social expectations.
Dr. Tamkin’s Influence and Manipulation: Tommy meets Dr. Tamkin, a charismatic but dubious character who claims to be an expert in financial advice and psychological insights. Tommy becomes drawn to Tamkin as the manipulative conman exploits Tommy’s vulnerability. The following line becomes Tamkin’s mantra of manipulation.
Only the present is real — the here-and-now. Seize the day.
In the novel, Dr. Tamkin ultimately becomes a big barrier in Wilhelm’s quest for freedom. Wilhelm’s encounter with Tamkin ultimately leads him to self-acceptance.
Emotional Turmoil: Alongside his financial troubles, Tommy also grapples with emotional turmoil. He is dealing with a failed marriage, a strained relationship with his father, and a general sense of inadequacy. This emotional baggage becomes a significant barrier to his sense of personal freedom. Wilhelm says in Chapter 1,
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.
The Stock Market and Recognition of Reality: Tommy’s day is spent largely around the stock market. He watches the ups and downs of the market as he contemplates his investments. The market serves as a metaphor for the unpredictability of life and the fickle (changing) nature of his pursuit of financial freedom.
As the day progresses and Tommy’s financial situation worsens, he begins to see through Dr. Tamkin’s charade. He realizes that Tamkin is a fraud and that his promises of financial success are empty.
Self-Reflection: Through the course of the day, Tommy engages in moments of introspection (self-analysis). He reflects on his past mistakes, his relationship with his father, and his own shortcomings. This self-reflection is an essential step towards finding personal freedom as he starts to come to terms with his own identity.
Acceptance and Letting Go: Towards the end of the novella, Tommy experiences a moment of acceptance and clarity. He realizes that his pursuit of financial success and societal validation has been misguided. He starts to let go of his attachment to material success and begins to understand the value of the ordinary. Tommy’s self-realization is evident when he cries seeing an unknown dead person at a funeral parlor.
He… sank deeper than sorrow… toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.
Crying in the funeral parlor, Tommy releases all the pain and frustration he feels. Expression and self-acceptance are what he has needed all along, breaking through the mask forced on him by modern urban life.
Tommy’s journey doesn’t necessarily lead to a concrete resolution or freedom from his problems. Instead, his day of turmoil and self-discovery is a stepping stone toward freedom.
In conclusion, Tommy Wilhelm’s quest for freedom is less about achieving external success or escaping his problems and more about coming to terms with his own identity and finding inner peace. It would help him to live authentically in the face of life’s challenges.