Seize the Day | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Seize the Day | Chapter 4 | Summary



Still upset by his conversation with his father, Tommy Wilhelm reflects that what he wants more than the money is the feeling of assistance. Wilhelm runs into Dr. Tamkin in the lobby. Wilhelm wonders if he can trust Tamkin, but he really has no choice at this point. He concludes from all the bad decisions in his life that it is he himself who is "ripe for the mistake" and "from the moment when he tasted the peculiar flavor of fatality in Dr. Tamkin" he had been compelled to give Tamkin his money.

Wilhelm recalls five days previously when he and Tamkin went to the brokerage office to open his account. Instead of investing equally, Tamkin could afford to give Wilhelm only $300, and Wilhelm covered the other $700. To allow Tamkin to manage the account, Wilhelm had to sign a power of attorney.

Back in the lobby, Tamkin convinces Wilhelm to sit with him while he breakfasts although Wilhelm is eager to get to the brokerage office. Tamkin tells story after story of treating all manner of people and problems. If Tamkin is to be believed, just about everyone has some strange psychological condition. Wilhelm doubts any of Tamkin's stories are true. Tamkin claims he does his work for love rather than money to "remove [himself] from the social influence." The making of money, according to Tamkin, is about aggression. He urges Wilhelm to "seize the day" because "only the present is real." He shares his theory that everyone has two souls, one of which is a pretender, bent by the whims of social conventions. In contrast, the true soul loves truth. Tamkin reveals he has been treating Wilhelm for some time. While Wilhelm dislikes being treated without his consent or knowledge, he is pleased by Tamkin's concern which is "what he craved, that someone should care about him, wish him well."

Wilhelm urges Tamkin to finish so they can get to the brokerage office. As they walk to the office, Tamkin reassures Wilhelm that "ultramodern electronic bookkeeping machinery" will prevent him from going into debt if losses exceed his initial investment. He gives Wilhelm a poorly written poem he's penned. Wilhelm doesn't understand it at all and suspects Tamkin is in financial straits, too.


The title of the novel is taken from Tamkin's advice to Wilhelm in Chapter 4. Tamkin rambles on about the past and present as he discusses why he works for love, not money. He urges Wilhelm to focus on the present and to "seize the day." The advice serves Tamkin's ends as a manipulator because he uses it to focus Wilhelm's attention on risk taking rather than on future consequences or wisdom learned from past experiences, which might prevent him from doing as Tamkin wishes. What an ironic use of a phrase that usually has such positive connotations.

The author suggests failure is Wilhelm's fate. Wilhelm has already expressed the idea that he inevitably makes poor choices. In Chapter 4 Wilhelm recalls he had an inkling that investing with Tamkin is an inescapable decision. He's sensed a "flavor of fatality in Dr. Tamkin," which suggests Tamkin's influence over Wilhelm is not only irresistible but also potentially fatal.

Chapter 4 cements the fact that Tamkin is a fraud. The stories of his patients are simply too ridiculous to be true, and even Wilhelm finds them to be so. Wilhelm is miserable when he thinks of the trust he put in such a charlatan, but he still seems eager to believe Tamkin's assurance that "ultramodern electronic bookkeeping machinery" will prevent him from losing any of his money. If that were the case, there would be no risk in investing. Knowing Tamkin has misrepresented his skills as a psychologist and trader serves to add suspense, although readers are increasingly certain things aren't going to end well for Wilhelm.

Wilhelm's anxiety about the trading day and eagerness to get to the brokerage office contrasted with Tamkin's unconcern and leisurely breakfast builds Wilhelm's frustration. He is ready to find out what is happening to his money. He is desperate. Tamkin, on the other hand, acts completely carefree. He takes his time eating, delaying their trip to the office. Wilhelm has to sit and wait for Tamkin, forced to listen to him drone on and on with one unrealistic story after another about people Wilhelm doesn't know. Wilhelm's frustration grows as the morning wears on.

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