Tommy Wilhelm as a Victimized Hero or Protagonist

Question: What is the American dream? How does Wilhelm become the victim of the American dream? Or, do you consider Wilhelm as a victimized hero? Tommy Wilhelm as a Victimized Hero or Protagonist


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

American dream

American dream means rapid success in life and becoming rich as soon as possible. This is a kind of doctrine that creates mental pressure on the youth of society. Saul Bellow takes the responsibility to remove such misconception of the American dream adopting his typical hero Wilhelm.

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.

Extreme financial crisis

When the novel starts, the protagonist of the novel Tommy Wilhelm has been suffering from a dilemma- the American dream and the high demand for money for daily necessities. His wife Margaret demands for alimony but he has no earnings since he has lost his job in sales. Such a situation of 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 by dividing into two sections past and present. Past memories are based on flashbacks from which the readers can learn that the protagonist had been a victim of the American dream at his 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.

Lack of communication and argument

The confrontation between Wilhelm and his father for the last chance to achieve his dream proves that he has huge lacking communicative and argumentative power.  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”.

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

American dream forces people obsessed with mad persuasion after success, money, and happiness. As an embodiment of the American dream, Wilhelm is roughly obsessed with money, fame, success, and happiness which 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 becomes 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 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.


From the light of the above discussion, it can be asserted through Wilhelm is not free from flaws for downfalls, he is rather a victim than a wrongdoer.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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