Spiritual Success Supercedes the Material Success in Saul Bellow's Seize the Day
Bellow sees the problems of the modern world as essentially matters of the spirit. In a high-pressure, pluralistic, threatening, materialistic world, people must find a way to live and to remain human. Tommy does this by recognizing that human beings must accept and share one another’s burdens.
Tommy Wilhelm is a loser. He is divorced, unemployed, broke, undereducated, self-indulgent, and dependent (on pills and his father, among other things). He lives in a hotel in New York City and wants desperately to put his life in order.
Wilhelm thinks of his life as a series of setbacks. A good part of his youth was wasted unsuccessfully trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood. After which he spent several years as a salesman of children's furniture before falling out with the management and resigning. He and his wife are incompatible, but she will not give him a divorce; he feels she is turning his two children against him even as she sends him bills. And his father, from whom he expects a little sympathy and understanding if not monetary assistance, is cold to him.
Tommy, like all Bellow protagonists, has trouble determining how to cope with the modern world.
Tommy makes one last grasp for success by investing in the commodities market under the dubious influence of Dr. Tamkin. His money quickly evaporates and with it his hopes.
Wilhelm must stop playing the "roles" he has been acted and he must find the person that he really is. For instance, throughout the book, he is seen, and sees himself, as "Dr. Adler's son." Later, Tommy becomes attached to Tamkin and the same disattachment is necessary. He needs also to release himself from money's grip and so he must lose all of his money to drive away its lead. Further still, he needs to release himself from Margaret, not from his obligations as a father, but from his victimization of her. In short, the paradox lies in the fact that one must lose everything in order to be free.
The other and final element that frees Tommy is that of love. At this lowest point, Tommy realizes that death is the only way to make connection with other people. Prior to the last scene he sees it only as one more form of alienation and is unwilling to sympathize with the dying all around him. Now Tommy becomes part of the "larger body" of humanity, instead of always being isolated in the crowd. After looking at the body of a man he does not know, breaks into uncontrollable weeping. In the end Tommy feels love for the people around him, and he feels love for the stranger in the coffin. It is a beautiful irony that the self-same society that constricted him can, in the end, be a freeing force also.
The end of the novel is a sharp contrast to the whole novel. Throughout the novel we see the cruelties, self-centeredness and the triumph of the spirituality.
Tommy whole heartedly cries over the coffin of the unknown person. At first, he cries out of his on misfortune and suffering. But at a certain stage he forgets about his own suffering. He truly cries for the dead man. The dead person is not his friend and relative. But still Tommy feels a connection with him. This is a human connection. There is no a slightest element of materialism or self centeredness. Thus, the novelist shows that even is a materialistic society like New York humans can act like human and feel selfless sympathy for others.
Labels: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow