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Seize the Day

Saul Bellow

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Plot Overview

Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec on June 10, 1915. Nina Steers, a journalist who once interviewed Bellow, said that his birth date was the only piece of information she could be sure of and that everything else was in doubt. The reason for Steer's statement is that Bellow is known for refuting interviewers and has always kept his personal life very private.

Bellow was born of poor, Russian-Jewish parents in Canada. He grew up immersed in the Old Testament and learned Hebrew and Yiddish because his mother desired that her children be Talmudic scholars. Bellow's father, on the other hand, was a business man, a bootlegger, and an importer, who wanted his children to grow up and take advantage of the new world of economic opportunities before them. He wanted his children to either have a profession or to have money. This is significant given that the main character in Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm, battles against his own father's idea of success, which, not coincidently, is very much like Bellow's father's idea of success. Money and success becomes a recurring theme within the novella.

Bellow did not remain in suburban Canada, and he moved in 1924 to the Chicago. It is at this time that the urban landscape began to infiltrate his life and would later reveal itself in his writing. Chicago is where Bellow "grew-up," went to high school, and began his college career. Having attended the University of Chicago for two years, he transferred to Northwestern University where he majored in anthropology. He decided after college to continue graduate studies within the field of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin from which he dropped out of and got married. It was then that he decided to write. He procured a job under the WPA writer's project writing short biographies of mid-western writers, and he later achieved an editorial position for The Encyclopedia Britannica. His first success as writer, however, came in 1941, with the publication of his short story "Two Morning Monologues," in the Partisan Review.

During the course of his life, Bellow would be married three times, have children, teach at numerous universities, including the University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton, Bard, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Chicago, and he would be given a number of highly prestigious awards. Saul Bellow has been the recipient of various National Book Awards, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Litteraire International, the Jewish Heritage Award, the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and, most importantly, the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he received in 1976.

Bellow was born in 1915, thus he came of age during the depression. He lived through World War II, and was even in the Merchant Marines, he saw the wartime economic boom of the forties and fifties, and experienced the Cold War first hand. Given that the protagonist of his novella, Seize the Day, has reached the age of forty-four in the 1950s, all of the above becomes applicable not only to Bellow, but to the protagonist of his novella and to its context. Tommy Wilhelm lives in the America of the 1950's, which means that the backdrop of his life consists of a newly made, strong American economy, and of a country at "war" with the Soviet Union that uses the tools of science and technology as weapons. Psychology and science appear over and over in the novella, as does the new urban experience—the big city at its economic height. With all of this in mind, Bellow has decided to place the protagonist of his novel at odds with the world around him. Tommy's "inner" world, his feelings and his human needs, are in constant battle with the external world of money and business.

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