How does Bellow portray the existential problem in American society in 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.


How does Bellow portray the existential problem in American society in Seize the Day?

Saul Bellow‘s (1915-2005) novella “Seize the Day” is a powerful exploration of the existential problem within American society in the mid-20th century. Through the character of Tommy Wilhelm, a middle-aged man grappling with a series of personal and societal crises, Bellow paints a bleak yet insightful picture of the human condition in an increasingly alienating and materialistic world. Here is Bellow’s portrayal of the existential problem in American society within the novel,

Alienation and Isolation: One of the central themes in “Seize the Day” is the profound sense of alienation and isolation experienced by Tommy Wilhelm. Tommy is a man who feels disconnected from the world around him. He is alienated from his family. Again, he is unable to maintain a stable career and lacks a sense of purpose. This sense of alienation is symbolic of the broader societal disconnection prevalent in post-war America.

Bellow suggests that the pursuit of material success and conformity to societal norms has led to a profound sense of emptiness and disconnection in the lives of many Americans. Again, His father argues with him no to provide sympathy and financial help, referring to his past mistakes, but he can never convince his father like Bellow’s philosophic statement.

“You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering
from the mistakes of the first half”.

Materialism and Consumerism: Bellow critiques the materialistic and consumerist values that dominate American society in the novel. Tommy’s obsession with financial success and his relentless pursuit of wealth reflects the societal emphasis on material gain and status. Bellow portrays a world where people constantly measure their self-worth regarding financial success. It leads to a sense of hollowness and desperation. This materialistic mindset is a major contributor to the existential crisis individuals like Tommy.

Loss of Authenticity: Bellow highlights the loss of authenticity and genuine human connection in a society driven by superficiality and image. Tommy’s interactions with various characters, including Dr. Tamkin and his father, reveal the prevalence of deceit and manipulation in interpersonal relationships. The characters in the novel often wear masks and engage in pretense, further exacerbating the sense of isolation and inauthenticity. Bellow suggests that pursuing personal success has eroded the capacity for meaningful human connection.

Spiritual Emptiness: In “Seize the Day,” Bellow explores the spiritual vacuum that plagues American society. Many characters, including Tommy, wrestle with a sense of emptiness and a lack of transcendent meaning in their lives. Bellow portrays a society where materialism and self-interest have overshadowed traditional religious and moral values. The absence of a spiritual foundation contributes to the characters’ existential despair, leaving them searching for purpose in a world devoid of higher meaning.

The American Dream’s Dark Side: The novel exposes the dark side of the American Dream, which promises success, happiness, and fulfillment to those who work hard and play by the rules. Tommy’s relentless pursuit of financial success and faith in the idea that he can achieve the American Dream highlight the hollowness of this promise. Bellow suggests that the American Dream, when pursued at the expense of one’s authentic self and meaningful human connections, can lead to a profound existential crisis.

The novel serves as a warning tale, warning against the blind pursuit of material success without consideration for the deeper aspects of human existence. Again, manipulation is also mentioned. Dr. Tamkin manipulates and deceives the unconventional hero of the novel by dint of his philosophic explanation of seizing the day.

The past is not good to us. The future is full of anxiety.
Only the present is real,, the here and now. Seize the day.

In conclusion, Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” explores the existential problem within American society during the mid-20th century. Through the character of Tommy Wilhelm and his experiences, Bellow plagued individuals in a rapidly changing and increasingly disconnected society. The novel serves as a clear reflection on the human condition and the challenges of finding meaning and purpose in a world dominated by materialistic values.