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Herzog | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Moses Herzog is on the train to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, heading for the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and his visit with Libbie Vane-Erikson-Sissler, an old friend. Using his valise as a lap-desk, he writes letters. He imagines marrying for a third time. He writes to the Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. He experiences a "whirling ecstasy," a manic episode, and begins a letter to himself. He writes to Egbert Shapiro, a scholar whose book manuscript he has promised to review; to his brother Shura Herzog; and to Sandor Himmelstein, the lawyer whom he and Madeleine Pontritter used.

He arrives at Martha's Vineyard where he is greeted by Libbie and her new husband, Arnold Sissler. He retires to the guest room supposedly to refresh himself and get ready for dinner. Instead, he writes a note to his hosts, stealthily leaves the house, returns to the ferry, and heads home.

From his bedside table, he picks up the letter he keeps there to stir his emotions, a note from Geraldine Portnoy, an ex-student of his and babysitter for his daughter June, and rereads it. The letter describes a situation in which Valentine Gersbach takes June outside and locks her in his car so he and Madeleine can argue in private.

Analysis

Each mood Herzog experiences generates a memory and an emotion as he compulsively scribbles letters on his way to his vacation respite. In his manic highs and lows, he finds a new idea or insight in each letter or experience he recalls. He congratulates himself on his new interest in social justice and his newfound spirit of discontent and universal reform, as he writes to several political figures and activists and to himself as well. He writes to Ramona and has a brief fantasy of a third marriage. He judges the false nature of his fantasies: that life with a good woman would lead to "self-development, self-realization" and needs born of what he judges to be "infantile fixations." He recognizes his own ambivalence, which makes him both "neurotic and typical." He thinks about Madeleine and his professor-friend Shapiro and their phony intellectual discussions. And he judges their responses basically inadequate to the postwar inheritance of memories of the Holocaust—the systematic murder of more than six million Jews and many others by the Nazi regime.

Herzog seems to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even those who have wronged him. He recalls a visit with Sandor Himmelstein, the lawyer he and Madeleine shared, and feels betrayed by Himmelstein's advocacy for Madeleine. Yet he feels compensated when the lawyer, also an old friend, kisses him. He calls his warm feelings toward Himmelstein, "cowardly potato love." He calls himself a sucker, and recognizes the Himmelsteins in their betrayal, their preference for Madeleine, showed him "the facts of life, and taught" him "the truth." His response to the Himmelsteins is close to his response to Valentine Gersbach's suffering. He valorizes his own humanity in putting those who have betrayed him before himself. Herzog's ambivalence and his mood swings threaten his sanity, and he recognizes he can't "maintain the balance for long."

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