Seize the Day | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Seize the Day | Chapter 6 | Summary



Dr. Tamkin and Tommy Wilhelm go to a diner for lunch. They have trouble finding a seat. The place is filled with people, old women dressed up eating leisurely. Wilhelm wonders why they aren't home knitting and taking care of their grandchildren like his grandmother did. Wilhelm has no appetite, but Tamkin chats away while he eats, asking Wilhelm about his father and telling him of his own, who left and started a second family with an opera singer, something for which Tamkin actually admired him. Tamkin suggests Wilhelm's father is really envious Wilhelm left his wife. Wilhelm thinks of Olive, a pretty Catholic girl who had been in love with him and ready to marry him if Margaret had not prevented it. Wilhelm thinks bitterly of Margaret, whom he believes is setting his sons against him to "punish him." Tamkin says women can "cripple by sickening a man with guilt," deliberately making him impotent.

Wilhelm insists they return to the brokerage office. Rappaport meets them outside and asks Wilhelm to take him to buy his cigars. Wilhelm reluctantly takes the old man, cursing his slowness. When they return to the office, Wilhelm looks at the board to find the price of lard has fallen significantly. The price of rye has fallen, too, and he has missed his opportunity to sell it to cover his losses. He feels physically sick but tries to downplay it to Rappaport, willing himself to hold back his tears. Rappaport asks if Wilhelm is planning to go to Maine on vacation like Dr. Tamkin. Wilhelm can't find Tamkin anywhere, and he wants to get the $200 Tamkin owes him at least.


When Wilhelm returns to find the price of both lard and rye have dropped, it seems the worst has happened, as readers have anticipated, yet it is still a pitiful scene. What's more, Tamkin has vanished, and readers can assume he is on his way to Maine for vacation, leaving Wilhelm in the lurch. The author shows Tamkin is the worst kind of charlatan, and Wilhelm has been duped. It is no surprise. All the signs have been there, but somehow the chapter still packs an emotional punch. The author uses pathos, an appeal to a reader's sense of pity for Wilhelm, to create the impact of the chapter. This huge middle-aged man, foolish though he has been, is a sad figure as he tries not to cry in front of the other people in the brokerage office like a little boy.

Chapter 6 reveals one of the author's weaknesses: his depiction of women. Some critics have pointed to this depiction as one of the few flaws in the novel and in Bellow's body of work as a whole, calling it a failure to "deal convincingly with women." Readers may be inclined to view it less charitably as misogyny. Wilhelm wonders why the older women are in the diner instead of at home caring for grandchildren as if they have no right to occupy public space. Tamkin describes women as manipulative castrators out to oppress men. The only female characters of note in the novel are Wilhelm's wife, who keeps him in a loveless marriage and drains him financially; Olive, who is powerless; and his mother, who is dead. In a novel about the struggle of urbanites to find meaning in modern life, readers may find the author's exclusion of women from that quest in any meaningful way to be problematic.

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