Seize the Day | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Seize the Day | Chapter 3 | Summary



As Mr. Perls leaves the dining room, Dr. Adler comments on the man's crippling bone disease. Dr. Adler tells Tommy Wilhelm, "I've learned ... to keep my sympathy for the real ailments." Wilhelm understands his father to mean his problems are unworthy of sympathy. Dr. Adler suggests Wilhelm use the hotel pool for hydrotherapy, but Wilhelm doubts water will help his problems. As he prepares to tell his father, "he drew and held a long breath ... and his eyes swam." He tells his father Margaret's demands are strangling him. Wilhelm complains he is a slave who, unlike the very rich or very poor, can never be free. He will have to work until he "drops dead." Dr. Adler cannot understand why Wilhelm gives in to his wife. Wilhelm claims his love for his children keeps him from cutting her off. He wants his sons to have everything. Dr. Adler tells Wilhelm he simply refuses requests from Catherine, who wants her father to pay for a gallery to show her paintings. He wonders why Wilhelm doesn't just divorce Margaret. Wilhelm has tried to divorce Margaret, but she has effectively prevented it by demanding more and more money.

Dr. Adler cannot understand why Wilhelm can't find success by simply working hard as he himself did. Dr. Adler doesn't believe Wilhelm's story about leaving his old job, suspecting his son got into some sort of trouble with another woman. Wilhelm admits he did fall in love with someone, but she got fed up with waiting for him to get a divorce. Faced with his father's lack of sympathy, Wilhelm feels "choked up and congested." He feels lost "like a ball in the surf, washed beyond reach." When his father asks what he expects, Wilhelm shouts that he wants help. Wilhelm loses his temper and confronts his father, claiming Dr. Adler would love him if he had money: "the money makes the difference." Dr. Adler believes if he gave his children money, they would take it all. He tells Wilhelm he doesn't want anyone "on [his] back" and that Wilhelm should avoid the same.


Chapter 3 returns to the theme of fathers and sons. The author shows this father and son as completely unable to understand one another. Dr. Adler can't understand why Wilhelm doesn't just pull himself up by his bootstraps. He gives Wilhelm advice which Wilhelm can't or won't take. He sees his adult children as leeches who would drain his lifeblood—his money—if he let them. Wilhelm can't understand why his father refuses to help his own son. He is a very different sort of father to his sons. He is practically killing himself to make sure they want for nothing. Wilhelm and Dr. Adler cannot communicate because they can't understand each other. They are talking past each other, and the resulting lack of understanding upsets them both.

The third chapter is full of language of suffocation and drowning. Wilhelm is being pushed under by the pressures of society and the rush of city life. In preparing to tell his father of his problem, "he drew and held a long breath" as if preparing to dive under water. He can't breathe, and "his eyes sw[i]m." Margaret's demands are suffocating him. His father's lack of sympathy makes him struggle to breathe, and he feels adrift like a ball being pulled out by the tide. Logically, he refuses to take his father's advice to take hydrotherapy. He is drowning already.

The author shows money as a divisive force. Money enslaves some but frees others. The rich and the poor alike are free from its powers, but people like Wilhelm are, in his opinion, slaves for life to the power of money. They have to work until they die. Money separates Wilhelm from his father's love and approval. He believes "money makes the difference" in their relationship. If he had money, his father would be proud of him. Money divides Dr. Adler from his adult children. It colors his view of them, making him see them as weights on his back, best avoided. Money also divides Wilhelm from his mistress. Margaret uses money to keep her husband in the marriage.

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