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Literary analysis of “Seize the Day” by Saul Bellow


The novel “Seize the Day” by Saul Bellow is the tail of one mans journey of transformation over one day. The novel is describing a conversion. Similar to that of a religious conversion, even though it wasn’t one of finding God, yet religion is focused so much on state of mind that if could almost be called a religious conversion, do to the drastic change he underwent doing this one day, this one small moment in time.





To understand how it was similar to a religious conversion you must understand the process of religious conversion. When some when undergoes one of these transformations they go thru clear distinct steps of sequence of actions. First, one is usually lead away by someone or some group of people that appears to be appealing or is doing precisely what you think you want. At this same time there is someone there who you know you should listen to and take their words to heart and yet the person doesn’t and falls away from that person. After this the person has a fall. This isn’t some ordinary fall or trip, but a chain of events which the person believes that he cannot and never will be able to recover from. And it is after this fall or plunge when it happens. It is usually quick, obvious, and overwhelming. The person then comes to a realization that God is out their and that he will help them out and always be there to protect and uplift them from any, problems, dilemma, or tribulations that one might face in their life time. His mental state is now utterly changed or altered and his complete persona is now different from how it was prior to this experience.


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Even though Tommy Wilhelm, who is the protagonist of this novel, didn’t have a Christian conversion and a sudden believe in God, he still went though these very steps to finally raise above all the problems facing him and have for once peace in his live. Tommy Wilhelm was a young, charismatic, good looking man and had an apparent successful future. He was told by a talent scout named Maurice Venice that he had a bright future in acting. This so called talent scout was at first honestly interested in Tommy, but after Tommy had one bad screen test this man did nothing for him. This man was really just a pimp and had been running a prostitution ring, using his position as a talent scout as a cover. After this fiasco attempt to an acting career and years of odd jumps just making ends meet he meet a man by the name of Dr. Tamkin. This man says he is a psychologist and a poet, and he claims to be a member of the Detroit Purple Gang, the head of a medical clinic in Toledo, the co-inventor of an unsinkable ship, a technical consultant in television, and a widow. His allegations are brought into doubt and although most people seem to be suspicious of him, Tommy is engrossed by him. It is with Tamkin that Tommy enters into a joint stock market venture, entrusting the last of his money to this self proclaimed market wizard who declares that he will make him hordes of wealth thru the commodities market. These men are two specific examples of people leading Tommy to what he thinks he wants. He desired to be, and thought he was going to be a great and famous actor, but these notions were dreams or ideals placed in his had by Maurice Venice who turned out not caring much about him, Dr. Tamkin also claimed to be able to solve Tommy’s problems and bring to him exactly what he wants, even this turns out untrue when the market bust and he loses all his money and Tamkin has disappeared to somewhere and cannot be found.


During all this Tommy had the one person who instructed him correct and was guiding him the way he needed, but he ignored him as long as he could. This man was his father Dr. Adler, he has worked hard during his life to achieve his position in life as a well-established, successful, and admired man. He refuses to carry his children on his back because he believes they should come to their own achievements, as he is a believer in the American protestant work ethic. He is stern and often harsh. But this man, all throughout Tommy’s life is trying to advice him on what he should do, and yet Tommy disregards him. Sadly he was the man that always told him the right thing, but Tommy never listens to or obeyed.


In an ordinary religious conversion it is after all the evil is done to him and all the appropriate and earnest guidance is given that the person then falls and has his break down. For Tommy this occurred after an extreme sequence of events. Tommy had fallen in love, but was unable to marry his love; he had failed at everything he tried; acting, salesmen, and the stock market. He also had his so called mentor leave him and just run away from Tommy and now after all this he encounters a funeral. He doesn’t know how the deceased was or anything about but he then followed the funeral and while looking at this dead man he had his conversion. He sees this dead man and to him it was his old self and now he could shed that and move on and be at peace finally. At this time he cried, he cried with such intensity, and it was those tears that also added in the washing away of his old self. Just like someone being baptized after there conversion to wash off their old sins and start over he had his washing of his old self so he could once again live and go on.


This novel even though its time frame was that of one short day it covered an extensively long period of time through flash backs and mental thoughts to adequately describe Tommy’s conversion. It covered everything from how he was first turned off the appropriate path and placed on a path of failures and disappointments which brought mental anguish, torment and suffering. To what it took to completely break him down and degrade his psychological fortitude. And ended with him coming to the realization that everything that others have lead him to do was the cause of this misery and sorrow. And that the one person who he refrained from listening to was the one whose suggestions and guidance was that of which he should have followed, His father’s. There by converting himself from all aspects of the way his conscience thought.





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