What is the American Dream? How does Wilhelm become the victim of the American Dream

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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.


What is the American Dream? How does Wilhelm become the victim of the American Dream?
Or, Do you consider Wilhelm a victimized hero?

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 is represented through the typical hero, Tommy Wilhelm, who is a victimized protagonist.

American dream: The American dream means rapid success in life and becoming rich as soon as possible. This kind of doctrine creates mental pressure on the youth of society. Saul Bellow takes the responsibility to remove such misconception of the American dream by 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 by the American dream and 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 alimony, but he has no earnings since he lost his job in sales. Such a situation in a man’s life is a token of being victimized.

Immaturity and lack of insight: Though Wilhelm is in his mid-forties, he has immaturity and lack of insight from nineteen to forty-four. It is universal that a man with immaturity and a lack of insight can be victimized very easily by the tiny facts, let alone the big ones. The novel’s plot is arranged by dividing it 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 nineteen. He left his college and pursued an acting career 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 conflict between Wilhelm and his father for the last chance to achieve his dream proves that he lacks communicative and argumentative power. His father argues with him not to provide sympathy and financial help. It refers 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 with such lacking of communication and argument has to be victimized at 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: The American dream makes 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, so he is perplexed with his head and heart. From the beginning to the end of the novella, he could not make any decisions spontaneously. As a result, he falls victim to 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 a deceitful philosophic statement of Dr. Tamkin before the financially troubled man has sufficient power to victimize him, and Wilhelm loses his last saving of seven hundred dollars 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.

From the above discussion, it can be claimed that though Wilhelm is not free from flaws or downfalls, he is rather a victim than a wrongdoer.