The attitude of Bellow towards contemporary American society

Question: Discuss The attitude of Bellow towards contemporary American society in the novel “Seize the Day”.


“Seize the Day” is one of the famous novels of the 20th century by Saul Bellow (1915-2005). The novel focuses on contemporary American society. The entire American society has been represented through the typical hero Tommy Wilhelm who is certainly a victimized protagonist.

Wilhelm as a victimized hero

Saul Bellow has limned his hero as a tragic character who must be free from harsh criticism and able to achieve pity and fear from the audience. As Wilhelm is a tragic hero or anti-hero, he is also victimized not only by the American dream but also by different aspects or angles of contemporary society such as failed conjugal life and also a failure in love. He is cheated by an exploiter namely Dr. Tamkin.

Extreme financial crisis

When the novel starts, the protagonist of the novel Tommy Wilhelm has been suffering from a dilemma- the American dream and high demand for money for daily necessities. His wife Margaret demands alimony, but he has no earnings since he has lost his job in sales. Such a situation in a man’s life is the token of being victimized.

Immaturity and lack of insight

Though Wilhelm is in his mid-forties, he has immaturity and a lack of insight from nineteen to forty-four. It is universal that a man who does have immaturity and lack of insight can be victimized very easily by the tiny facts let alone the big one. The plot of the novel is arranged dividing into two sections-past and present. Memories come from the flashback from which the readers can learn that the protagonist had been a victim of the American dream at nineteen. He left his college and persuaded acting career being influenced by a fraud character Maurice Venice and failed out and out. Thus, he has been cheated till the funeral scene of the novel. Now it is obvious that American society is totally failed because of madly persuasion behind success namely name, fame, and money.

Lack of communication and argument

The confrontation between Wilhelm and his father for the last chance to achieve his dream proves that he has a huge lacking of communication and arguments.  His father argues with him not 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”.

Consequently, he fails to gain sympathy and money from his father. A man having such lacking of communication and argument has to be victimized in every step of life. So, the author confers the message to the readers for being shrewd to face the modern complexity of life.

Obsession or perplexity

Americans are obsessed with mad persuasion after success, money, and happiness. Wilhelm is roughly obsessed with money, fame, success, and happiness that is why he is perplexed with head and heart. From the beginning to the end of the novella he could not reach any decision spontaneously. As a result, he falls into a victim by Dr. Tamkin.

“Nature only knows one thing, and that’s the present.


You must go along with the actual, the here- and now, the glory.”

Such deceitful philosophic statement of Dr. Tamkin before a financially troubled man has sufficient power to victimize him and Wilhelm loses his last saving seven hundred dollars investing in the commodity market. So, by the character of Wilhelm, the condition of the failures of the American dream has been generalized by Saul Bellow in an epoch-making way. Here the moral is that society must be perfect for the sustainable development of a country.


From the light of the above discussion, it can be asserted that though Wilhelm is not free from flaws for downfalls, he is rather a victim than a wrongdoer because of the pressure from society and of course evil of society.

S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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