You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Chronicles of the City

Money is a symbol of complex social forces in 'Seize the Day'

Saul Bellow views the past in an almost anthropological way. He finds no moral in it, but rather senses the shaping force of heredity and social circumstance upon man, the isolation and burden of human life, the natural ruins of time, and the continuity of human history. Like James Joyce, a chronicler of the city, Bellow attempts to discover pattern and meaning in the hidden fantasies of man living in a mechanized urban world where the daily routine obscures private realities and where normal human reactions are expected to be proper, abstractions systematized by a code of social behavior, not deeply felt, emotional, or genuine.

Despite his intellectual bent, Bellow is less interested in ideologies than in persons. His concern for what really is going on in an individual's mind and heart continues in Bellow's Seize the Day, a new collection of four stories and a one-act play. More restrained and concentrated in form and style than The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, is unified by the recurrent theme of man's quest for identity and understanding in a city where, amid the decaying tenements, the once-fashionable apartment-hotels, the musty subways, crowded cement Streets, and odorous delicatessens, man sacrifices himself to money-idols and causes money to sur-round him "in life as the earth does in death," thereby externalizing the pressures and obligations he imposes on himself.

Money is a symbol of complex social forces in Seize the Day. Although the distracted middle-aged hero of the long title story believes that society has "made it a shame not to have money," he accepts the obligation of guilt for failure and mingles with that guilt his sense of failure as a son, as a husband, and as a man. In "The Wrecker," an expressionistic one-act comedy, the Husband views money as society's bribe to keep man from overriding conventions in his search for forbidden truths; so he rejects the city's $1,000 bonus to move out of the condemned tenement he has occupied for fifteen years and starts to wreck the apartment himself, as a means of achieving self-understanaing and of purging, himself of the past. In "Looking for Mr. Green,''' the old Negro who receives a relief check realistically considers money "d'sum of human kind," and unfolds a scheme to "fetch respect' for Negroes by creating "one Negro millionaire a month by subscription."

In "A Father-to-Be," Rogin, a young research chemist' has a sudden intuition that "everyone has some weight to carry." Instead of saddening him, this notion that "all were under pressure and affliction" puts him in "a wonderful mood," filling him with pity for others. Rogin's "illuminated mind" comprehends the self-deception of a reformed drunk who had been dismayed that his confession of his former failing hadn't surprised an old friend. Rogin understands the self-deception of two small girls sitting on opposite sides of a subway car, each with an identical doll-faced muff, each "in love" with her own muff, each not even seeing the other. But when he notices a handsome, self-satisfied, coldly indifferent man who reminds him of his fiancée, his mood alters. Seeing in this dandy of respectability a vision of his son-to-be, Rogin rebels against being victimized by heredity and chance. But his rebellion is short-lived as he loses himself in his own illusion of love.

Committed to the discovery, comprehension, and expression of the private inward lives of men in a crowded, complicated, difficult world, Saul Bellow has written at least three brilliant stories in Seize the Day—the title story, "A Father-to-Be," and "Looking for Mr. Green." Altogether, Bellow seems more suited by temperament and ability than any writer or his generation to create for America "the untreated conscience" of modern man.