Saul Bellow is a Canadian born writer who will best be remembered for his witty analysis of the human culture and the translation of this into adventurous, fictional and entertaining philosophical writings (Elinor & Slater 42). He was born in 1915 and his literary skills have since then won many awards including a Nobel Prize for literature. Bellow wrote his first piece of literary work in 1944 at a time when most modern writers were past their creative peaks and it was these writers who fashioned his understanding as a writer as well as the form, content and style of all his novels. Bellows message was always one of hope and affirmation, and the Hostile urban environment that he grew in and his struggle to lead a decent life provided backdrop to most of his work. Most of his fictional work was set around Chicago and if you read most of his books, you will notice that the author brings out a sense of Midwestern uncouthness and assertiveness in all his major characters. During his years of writing, Mr. Bellow steered himself clear of any trends, schools of writings and cliques and he preferred sticking to an idiosyncratic path which is what made his literary work so unique (Halldorson 5).
This paper explores Saul Bellow literary work in relation to subject matter, style and themes. The paper will also give critically analysis the author himself.
Bellow is best known for his some of his novels like “The adventures of Augie March” which was his breakthrough novel, “Herzog”, “Humboldt’s gift” and “Seize the day” all of which were filled with larger than life heroes. In his books he portrayed a sense of heroism in all of his characters and all his heroes; Augie March; Henderson; Herzog; Humboldts and the rest all struggled in battles to achieve self meaning and stand in contrast to the negative forces of society. These heroes were depicted as intellectuals, dreamers and individuals who were on a quest (Atlas 23).
Bellow took the concept of the human struggles and turns this into fictional stories that carry power and integrity. Being a postwar writer, Mr. Bellow is left with themes like isolation, oppression and marginality therefore the important features of his work were based on the note of isolation and self-meaning (Elinor & Slater 44). In his first novel “Dangling Man” Bellow shows how modern people are alienated and their struggle to fit in to the society. He goes on to explain this in one of his books; Herzog “I know that my suffering, if I may speak of it, has often been … a more extended form of life” (Bellow 9). Mr. Bellow’s works are therefore primarily concerned with the idea of reality and the human being’s fear of it; he brings out issues of perception, highlights intellectual shallowness and the distortion of ones consciousness “Occasionally there was a break in his eccentricity when he stopped and thought. He tried to think himself clear away from this American world (I did that, too). I could see that Humboldt was pondering what to do between then and now” (Bellow 56). He confronts the real issues of contemporary human experience and elevates it into a level of fiction that captures the reader’s mind and deals with subject matters such as war, holocaust as well as the decline of the West. Bellow’s books relate to the confusion of modern civilization in terms of its ability to encourage materialism and providing misleading knowledge and the ability of human beings to overcome that which is frail and in the end achieve greatness.
In most of his work, one can notice how Mr. Bellow uses special verbal effect and grammar to tell his stories with the invention of the grammar of resistance to describe certain kinds of judgment of the human community. In Henderson the rain king the author staes “I am a true adorer of life, and if I can’t reach as high as the face of it, I plant my kiss somewhere further down. Those who understand it will require no further explanation” (Bellow 34)The characters in his books seem to bear resemblance to Bellow as he jokingly uses references and quotes form other high-culture writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust to bring out his themes. Aharoni Ada (1982) recognizes protagonist in existential crisis, encounter with mentor, confrontation with death or danger, epiphany, environment as a reflection of the characters mind and use of images and symbols as Bellows agents of the introspective process. Taylor Christopher 2001, observes that Mr. Bellow had two great themes in all of his work; the fate of an individual at an age where people did not value individualism and the Jewish experience in twentieth century America. Do not be mistaken by this, he shows a great appreciation for America and is greatly fascinated by the joie de vivre and uniqueness of the American cultural experience. According to Glenday Michael K. 1989, Bellow’s works bring out the theme of escapism in the American culture; both in national and personal life and he claims that the stories suggest that American life will increase in artificiality as well as inhumanity.
Bellow is sometimes accused of over-intellectualizing his work in the sense that he tries to cover his old-fashioned and conventional writings by bonding two contradictory aspects of his character and style. But the ironies of most of his work arise from the conflict between a hypothetical speculation of an issue and the specificity of a real live experience of that; he clearly shows this in a statement in one of his books, “I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And then? I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And what next? I get laid, I take a short holiday, but very soon after I fall upon those same thorns with gratification in pain, or suffering in joy” (Bellow 60). Most of his stories focus on the character and the idea of the character himself which always brought out as a person who is irreducible and persistent. Ron Rosenbaum claimed that Bellow’s books were complete failures and that Ravelstein was the only book that did not fail Bellow as an author. He claims that all the books that came before Ravelstein exhibited undigested chunks of mystery which were neither impressive, speculative nor were they in any way philosophical. That the world and the flesh in his writing style are both figured and transfigured.
From my view I think that Saul Bellow is by far one of the greatest literary figures today. Not only are the characters in his books fictional and at the same time realistic heroes, they capture the modern day struggles of man which most of us can relate to in terms of our experiences. Basically, though his writings might sometimes be filled with confusing intellectual statements, what Bellow tells us in his stories is worth any reader’s time and money. His reflective fiction stresses that human beings are not only responsible for the course and momentum of their own personal lives, but also responsible for that of others and future generations to come (Fullford 1). This is clearly illustrated in one of his books; the adventures of Augie March where one of the characters says, “Nobody asks you to love the whole world, only to be honest…Respect is better than love” (Bellow 3). He is a conscience writer who brought forth energy; passion and humor on every aspect of his literary works to call for change in certain areas of human experiences. I particularly liked how he threw himself in to controversial issues such as in Mr. Sammler’s planet whose main character was a black pickpocket whose is torn between acting in the world and standing aside to observe it and in the end he finds a way to balance the two. Bellow looks at existentialism not just as a philosophy, but as a shift in ordinary human attitudes towards life that has altered every aspect of the human civilization.
Saul bellows sparked controversy with most of his work and everyone has their own view about his work and the deeper meaning to it. He did what other writers of his time did not dare to do and has since then been recognized for this courage, talent and skills. He was confident in what he wrote and did not desire to change his stories because of a little criticism. In one of his interviews with the media he says that “You never have to change anything that you got up in the middle of the night to write”. Bellow’s writings are for the intellectual reader who is interested in learning more about the concept of individualism.
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