Herzog | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Herzog | Chapter 8 | Summary



Moses Herzog is reunited with June Herzog. He takes her to the Museum of Science. She confides Madeleine Pontritter has told her not to talk about Valentine Gersbach, who Herzog calls "Uncle Val" and who June says is her "stepfather." They visit the aquarium and continue to enjoy themselves. They head out to lunch, and Moses has a minor car accident.

As the police review the accident, it becomes clear Moses's driving was not at fault. They cite the driver who hit Moses's car but have to book Herzog for a misdemeanor because they found the loaded, unregistered gun. In the police car headed toward the station, Moses worries about the vivid memory of children and remembers traumatic experiences of his own past.

He waits patiently for Madeleine to show up at the police station. Although his thoughts race, he remains calm. Madelaine comes to the station and tries to pick a fight in front of the police. Herzog is able to avoid her hatred or what he calls her "will that he should die." Held for bond he doesn't have, Moses calls his brother Willie Herzog, who picks him up and takes him to the doctor. Moses is taped for a broken rib and gets several stitches to close the cut on his brow. He refuses Will's invitation to dinner but accepts his offer to help him sell the house in the Berkshires.


In this chapter Moses shows a new selflessness in his actions. He moves from one situation that might provoke a dramatic scene to another. Instead of rushing headlong into more conflict, he rises to each occasion and puts aside his own emotions. He manages not to examine June about her situation at home. He agrees with Madeleine's instruction not to discuss that situation and finds it easy to be lighthearted with his daughter. Surprisingly, he finds himself entertaining no hard feelings with respect to Madeleine or Gersbach. When June confesses Uncle Val is nice but she doesn't like him because she doesn't like his smell, Herzog rallies, suggesting they buy Val some perfume.

Herzog's attention throughout the trouble with the police is primarily on his daughter, though he is careful not to worsen his own situation. In the police car on the way to the station, he worries about how this incident might affect June. At that moment he recalls his own traumatic childhood memories, which include sexual abuse by a stranger. He neither dwells on the incident nor reacts in a way to alarm his daughter. He simply and uncharacteristically sets it aside. He deals in a calm and practical way with the police, carefully drawing no extreme attention to himself. He says little about the gun except for the simple truth. He had removed it from his father's desk; it is a relic as are the old Russian rubles which were in his pocket with the gun. He does not fight with Madeleine when she arrives at the police station. He is also not defensive.

Similarly, when Willie arrives to pay Moses's bond, Moses behaves in a quietly controlled way, assuring his brother he is alright. He compromises with Willie's wishes by agreeing to visit the doctor and allowing Will to help with selling the Ludeyville house but refusing an invitation to dinner. He seems entirely in charge of what he needs and what he wishes to do. His behavior is principally calm and practical. As Willie leaves, Herzog expresses a view of himself and his wishes: "A loving brute—a subtle, spoiled, loving man. Who can make use of him? He craves use."

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