Seize the Day | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Course Hero. "Seize the Day Study Guide." May 7, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Seize-the-Day/.

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Seize the Day | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Tommy Wilhelm keeps searching for Dr. Tamkin, looking in his room back at the Gloriana, but no one knows where he is. Wilhelm goes to the hotel pool to find his father getting a massage. Dr. Adler refuses Wilhelm's request to cover his rent. When Wilhelm admits he has made a mistake that has gotten him into trouble, his father reminds Wilhelm he told him not to trust Tamkin. Wilhelm begs his father for help, if not financially, then with "other things a father can give to a son," just "a word ... would go a long way." This request makes Dr. Adler angry. He says he "is not going to pick up a cross" he thinks his son is trying to force him to take. Dr. Adler screams, "I'll see you dead, Wilky, by Christ, before I let you do that to me."

Wilhelm asks again about Tamkin in the lobby. The clerk gives him an urgent message from his wife. Anxious about his sons, he calls her, but she really only wants to reprimand him for sending a postdated check. She wants what she feels he owes her. He explains he doesn't have the money, but she is "remorseless, unbending." He begs her to get a job, but she refuses, claiming the boys need her to stay home. He yells she is killing him with her demands, distraught he can't make her understand what she is doing to him. Wilhelm loses his temper, and she hangs up on him.

He pushes his way out onto the street, crowded with people, "and the great, great crowd ... pressing round ... of one particular motive ... I labor, I spend, I strive," moving along. Wilhelm thinks he sees Tamkin and tries to make his way toward him, but he gets caught up in the flow of people, carried along into a funeral parlor. He finds himself in the line of people filing past an open casket. Staring at the body inside moves Wilhelm to tears. After weeping for the man, the flood of emotion Wilhelm has been holding back gives way, and he sobs openly. He thinks, "Oh, Father, what do I ask of you? What'll I do about the kids—Tommy, Paul?" The other guests wonder over his identity. Surrendering to his grief, Wilhelm "sank deeper than sorrow ... toward the consummation of his heart's ultimate need."

Analysis

The climax of the novel comes in the final chapter in Wilhelm's cathartic release of emotion. All of the action and suspense of the novel has been building toward his collapse. When he finally lets go of his artificial mask, as Reich would call it, Wilhelm is able to express his anguish in sobs not unlike the howls the author was encouraged to use in his Reichian therapy. All of his money and sense of control gone, all appeals for help rebuffed, Wilhelm's artificial armor has been stripped away, and he is able to move "towards the consummation of his heart's ultimate need" of self-expression. Catharsis is an expression of negative emotion by a character that allows the audience to also free themselves of similar feelings. The climax of the novel cleanses Wilhelm of repressed feelings and invites readers to do the same.

Interestingly Chapter 7 includes several Christian references. Dr. Adler likens Wilhelm's plea for help to a demand to carry a cross and uses the name of Christ as a curse to reject his son. Even turning his back on his son is a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus when God the Father abandons the Son to his death by crucifixion. In the funeral parlor, Wilhelm seems to pray for help when he begs his "father" for guidance on how to care for his children. Such an informal address of God in prayer is associated much more with Christianity than with Judaism. Readers may consider that these references may be used by the author as ideas appropriated into American vernacular rather than as truths holding particularly religious meaning.

The author returns to the theme of fathers and sons in the final chapter. Wilhelm begs his father for financial help, but he would be grateful for just a "word" from his dad. He seeks compassion and sympathy as much as, if not more than, money from Dr. Adler, who remains disapproving and then hostile toward his son. The author again contrasts two types of fathers. While Dr. Adler says he would rather die than help Wilhelm, the care of his sons is what grieves Wilhelm most when faced with his own financial ruin. In the funeral parlor, he seems to turn to a higher father in a plea for wisdom. All the fathers in the novel fail their sons, however, regardless of their intentions. Dr. Adler thinks he is doing the best thing by forcing Wilhelm to cope alone, and Wilhelm struggles to provide for his children, whom he loves. All the sons in the novel are functionally left without a father's care.

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