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Herzog | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Herzog | Chapter 6 | Summary



After their night together, Herzog drops Ramona at work and goes home to phone Simkin, his lawyer. Herzog worries June is not being well treated by Madeleine and Valentine, and he has decided to sue for custody. Simkin, a friend of Madeleine's family, has had a falling out with Madeleine and encourages Herzog to pursue the lawsuit. He offers to meet Herzog at the courthouse in the office of his cousin Wachsel, an associate in the district attorney's office, and Herzog sets out immediately.

Arriving before Simkin, Herzog visits a number of courtrooms to pass the time. He watches the trial of a fight between two poor black men and the arraignment of a very young transsexual prostitute. He leaves the courtroom feeling desperately sick to his stomach. In yet another courtroom, he happens in on the trial of a young man and woman who have abused and murdered her three-year-old son. Taking in the horrendous details, Herzog staggers from the courtroom, sick to his stomach and fearful he might be having a heart attack. He cannot let go of the haunting image of the girl hurling her child against the wall while her lover is lying in bed watching.


Herzog's thoughts throughout the morning, triggered by his activity of the moment, return to matters of identity and honest self-assessment. He shaves and recognizes he "feels challenged but unable to struggle with social injustice, too weak, so he struggles with women, with children, with his 'unhappiness.'" He also recognizes in meeting Ramona he has found a woman who is humane and in her humanity, he recovers his own. He acknowledges he is able to give people hope, that his message at times has been "Rely on me."

With that in mind, he decides to visit his son Marco on Parents' Day at camp, both out of his sense of responsibility and to give Daisy a break. His sympathy for Daisy is profound in his thoughts. Acting on it is another matter. He knows Daisy has been dealing with her mother who, afflicted with dementia, has become a terrible burden.

Later, in the first courtroom he visits, he is struck by the vagaries of individual lives that bring him some perspective on his own. He is aware especially by how stubbornly he has misread events based on selfish needs. He admits to himself, "I willfully misread my contract. I never was the principal, but only on loan to myself." He recognizes in himself "eager impulses, love, intensity, passion, dizziness that make a man sick." Almost prophetically, his body in agreement, a bout of terrible discomfort follows. He indeed feels very sick.

The theme of the chapter seems to be motherhood/parenthood and the question of nurturing behaviors. Herzog considers his own capabilities to be not merely a sensitive instrument of the world's pain but an active participant. He thinks about the small ways individuals can be of help and thus of consequence. Although he thinks about mothers and mothering, he also recognizes he too can be a nurturer. He thinks about his own mother and her death, about Daisy's mothering of Marco and, later, of her own mother. He faces Madeleine's failures as a mother and decides to act upon his worries. His earlier concerns were historical and his vision of his own role grandiose. But in this chapter and under the spell of his night with Ramona, he seems capable of adjusting his vision—and his definition of happiness.

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