Moses is worried by the murder trial of the mother, and decides that he needs to go to Chicago to see his daughter, June, and to confront Madeleine and Valentine. He gets on a plane immediately and heads to Chicago. Before going to Madeleine's house, however, he stops in at his old home, where his father used to live with his stepmother, Tante Taube. His father, Jonah, is dead, but his stepmother still lives in the house. He visits with Taube, who tells him he has changed. He remembers many things from his youth, everything from Taube's wonderful strudel to the time his father threatened him with a gun.
Moses looks at the pictures of his family and Taube, everyone dressed in their many guises. He sees his father as an American, in the last epoch of his life, the young Tante Taube as the Widow Kaplitzky, and himself as a schoolboy. As Taube recounts her ailments and talks to him, Moses drifts in and out of memories. He remembers the day his father became angry and waved his gun at him. Moses says that when he asked his father to help him underwrite a loan, his father questioned Moses' money, job, and life. Taube interjected when the quarrel became violent. According to Taube, she saved Moses.
Moses goes to his father's desk when Taube goes to the kitchen to get a drink for Moses. Moses takes from the desk the pistol his father threatened him with, wrapping it in a bunch of old, worthless Russian rubles. He has thoughts of killing Valentine and Madeleine. He returns, drinks from his father's cup, and leaves the house. He drives to Harper Avenue, where Madeleine lives. He does not go up to her house, but watches from the outside. He looks through the kitchen window and sees Madeleine. Then he goes to the bathroom window, through which he sees his daughter bathing. The sight makes him joyful. Then, however, he sees that Valentine is bathing her and is angry until he sees that Valentine is taking care of June with tenderness. Moses' feelings are mixed, but he realizes that his thoughts of killing Madeleine and Valentine were only thoughts. He would never actually do such a thing.
Moses goes to meet with Phoebe Gersbach, Valentine's first wife, to see if she will help him gain custody of June. Phoebe is not receptive to the idea. She refuses to admit that Valentine was a bad husband. Nevertheless, in the end she shows that she feels sympathetic toward Moses. That night, Moses stays at Lucas Asphalter's house. Moses feels "potato love" for Lucas, the love of friendship and common humanity.
At Moses' request, Lucas arranges a meeting between Moses and June. Madeleine agrees to the meeting on the condition that Lucas picks up June, and Moses meets up with them later. Lucas is still upset about the death of his monkey and tells Moses about the therapy he has having because of his depression. Lucas tells Moses that facing death is the most important step. Lucas explains an exercise in which you pretend you are dead and then confront all of those people in your life with the absolute truth. Moses and Lucas talk until bedtime.
This chapter reveals the way Moses has changed. As Moses has said, when one begins to come to terms with death, appearances change. No letters are written in this section, which may mean that because Moses now exists in the immediate world around him, seeing people and taking action, he does not need to retreat into his own mind as much. Moses still luxuriates in his memories, but he does not revert to letters.
Another possibility is that Moses does not need the letters anymore, because they have served their purpose of helping him face death. The exercise that Lucas describes, in which you pretend you are dead and imagine yourself talking freely with the people in your life, is another form of what Moses has been doing in his letters. Without realizing it at first, Moses was writing letters in order to come to terms with death. In the letters, he was completely truthful and revealed what was in his heart.
Moses' appearance also changes. He is not dressed fashionably, for he is no longer the vain man he once was. Instead of thinking of himself and his appearance, he thinks solely of his daughter, worrying about whether his doubts are well founded and whether he is overreacting. When he sees June interacting with Valentine, Moses realizes that the situation is not dangerous. He is still angry, but he does not have any more wild thoughts about killing Valentine and Madeleine.
Moses becomes a double for his father, Jonah, when he takes Jonah's gun and drinks from Jonah's cup. For a moment, Moses is angry and full of empty threats, just as his father was. Taking his father's gun may also be a gesture of sentiment.
Bellow suggests, in this section, that humans live life by playing a series of roles. Acting is constantly mentioned in connection with Madeleine and Valentine. As Moses looks at the pictures of his family, it is as if he is looking at photos of characters in their costumes. People act out the different parts of life, the different moments and eras, costuming themselves to fit the role of the moment.
In section one, Moses Herzog is found alone in a big old house in the Berkshires, reflecting on his past, trying to come to terms with his troubled life: middle aged, twiced divorced, impotent.
He is thought to be out of his mind by Madeline, his ex-second wife, who fell in love with Valentine, his best friend.