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Herzog

Saul Bellow

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

Discuss the role of women in Herzog.

Some critics charge that Bellow does not write well about women. On first reading, the female characters in Herzog may seem one-dimensional and stereotyped: Madeleine, the antagonistic and slightly neurotic ex-wife, Ramona the sensual, South American girlfriend, Daisy, the traditional, conservative wife, and Sono Oguki the exotic Eastern woman. This list reads like a catalogue of offensive clichés.

The portrayal of women in Herzog, however, is not meant to be an objective one. We see these women through Moses' eyes, distorted by his blind spots and biases. For Moses, women mark the various stages on the road to self- improvement. Sono Oguki and other past lovers represent his tendency to use women as an escape. He must come to terms with Madeleine in order to successfully gain a better understanding of the world around him. And he finds a new start in Ramona.

Discuss the importance of immigration, culture, and religion to the novel.

Saul Bellow was one of the first writers to shift the tide of literature in the twentieth century. Before him, great American authors in America tended to be white gentile men. Bellow, a Jewish American man, achieved greatness writing about, in Herzog, a Jewish American man. Still, Bellow has said that he considers himself not a Jewish writer, but an American writer. This attitude is shared by Moses, who is the child of immigrant parents, but is distinctly American. Moses is insulted when people consider him a foreigner.

Discuss Bellow's use of doubles in Herzog. How can characters like George Hoberly and Jonah Herzog be seen as doubles for Moses, and what purpose does this serve in the novel?

Doubles exist mainly to create dramatic irony, which occurs when the audience knows more than the characters know. At one point, we find out that years ago Moses' father, Jonah, threatened Moses with a gun. Moses doubles his father when he takes Jonah's gun and considers killing his ex-wife and her lover. Although Moses does not know what will happen, we the readers can infer that because Jonah did not kill Moses, and Moses is now Jonah's double, Moses will not kill, either.

George Hoberly can also be seen as a double for Moses. Hoberly is Ramona's ex- boyfriend. He pines for her, and cannot the end of his relationship with her, loitering under her window and giving her gifts. Like Moses, Hoberly could be seen as a depressive. Toward the middle of the novel, Moses actually recognizes his similarity to Hoberly. He understands that he pines for Madeleine just as Hoberly pines for Ramona. The degree to which Moses understands his doubles indicates the degree of his improvement in mental health.

Suggested Essay Topics

Discuss the idea of salvation in the novel. Where does Moses find salvation, and how does his idea of it change as the novel progresses?

As Moses' thoughts change, how does he think begin to think of society differently? What paradoxes arise because Moses places importance on both society and solitude?

Discuss Bellow's suggestions that human beings exist as actors, living their lives by playing a series of roles.

More Help

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Herzog: a depressive scholar

by thefirstlady33, September 12, 2013

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.

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