Saul Bellow's curious heroes: Their movement from isolation to involvement.
thesisposted on 19.11.2015, 08:59 by Rosalind J. Buckton
This thesis aims to discuss Bellow's works mainly in a psychological context. The basic premise is that, despite a person's individual situation and the more universal problems facing him, there is the possibility of an approach to life which can transcend such problems, which rests on man's natural optimism. Each novel is discussed in turn, showing how the protagonists have, for various reasons, become unable to cope with everyday life. This is partly due to their idealism, which, carried too far, causes dissatisfaction with their world and prevents them from compromising that idealism. Their inquiring nature drives them to seek 'answers' to problems through explanation and theory, thus cutting themselves off from experience. A change in their attitude, and a reconciliation with the world, comes about through a cessation of effort subsequent to a realisation of its futility --- possibly precipitated by a particular event. They are once more able to communicate with people, breaking the barrier of their alienation, and find satisfaction in this contact. Their redemption is in the realisation that man shares the common fate of existence and death, and that this connection, asserted between individuals, can provide a worthwhile basis for living and for affirming the value of existence. Another factor which may indicate a more positive existence is the instinctive optimism of the soul, which refuses to succumb to merely temporal pressures or to see life only in nihilistic terms. Bellow believes that this optimism can emerge in anyone's life if only one allows it to, and that this, rather than the struggle for rationality, will bring peace. The short stories and plays are also considered in this context. The conclusion of the argument is followed by an appendix which discusses Bellow's latest novel, Humboldt's Gift.