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Seize the Day

Saul Bellow

Important Quotations Explained

Chapter VII

Key Facts

When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up. He had once been an actor—no, not quite, an extra—and he knew what acting should be.

These are the opening lines of the novel, spoken by the third person, omniscient narrator. They establish certain thematic threads that will be woven throughout the book and that are, from the beginning, pointed out as important. First of all, the quote introduces the idea of concealment. It implies that not only does Tommy Wilhelm "keep up appearances," but so does everyone else. In other words it points to the masks and the many layers of the "modern man." This introduction to the idea of "appearances" is then followed, appropriately, by a conversation between Tommy and Rubin—the man from the newspaper stand in the hotel where Tommy is staying—about clothing which is an ultimate symbol of "layering" and "appearances."

Furthermore, it tells the reader that the protagonist was once an actor. However, significantly it also points out that he was not quite so, for he was an extra. This indicates that Tommy may be, in many ways, a failure. Also, it illustrates that perhaps Tommy, who could not make it as an actor, will not be as good as "he thought" at keeping his mask strapped on tightly. In short, it concisely foreshadows the book and gives the reader an idea of who Tommy is all within the first three sentences of the novel.

Uch! How they love money, thought Wilhelm. They adore money! Holy money! Beautiful money! It was getting so that people were feeble-minded about everything except money.

These are Tommy's thoughts in Chapter II, in response to his father's bragging about how Tommy had made up to "five figures." The quote indicates Tommy's contempt of money and it also points to the level of importance that money is given in the society in which Tommy lives. The quote suggests a negative attitude toward the "they" in the quote, those that love money. The "they" refers to his father, Dr. Adler, his "friend" Mr. Perls.

Although he criticizes those that can only think about money, Tommy himself spends much of the later chapters of the book worrying himself into a state of severe nervousness about the money he has invested in the market. Moreover, money seems to be something he cannot get away from, or break away from rather, within the consumer society in which he lives. Furthermore, as the book progresses, Tommy will have to shed himself of various roles and ideas to become his true self and allow that true self to surface. He will have to be abandoned by his father and surrogate father, Dr. Tamkin, for example, for him to stop seeing himself solely as a "son in the eyes of a father." In this case, he will also have to lose all of his money so he can be freed from it and its grip.

Wilhelm sat, mountainous. He was not really so slovenly as his father found him to be. In some aspects he even had a certain delicacy.

This is a description of the narrator's in Chapter III, after Mr. Perls has left the breakfast table at which Dr. Adler and Tommy were sitting. It points to various elements: the point of view of the novel and the duplicitous nature of Tommy.

First of all it is important that the narrator is, at this point, taking a rare distance from Tommy's own perspective to describe the man that the narrator's voice so often inhabits. However, it seems that even in this, the narrator takes Tommy's perspective in illustrating that Tommy is not truly as his father sees him. It is important to bring this narration device into question constantly.

The language and word choice of the quote is important. First of all, Tommy is described as "mountainous," which refers to many of his qualities. He has eaten a great deal and so it is a description of a full and heavy Tommy. At the same time, however, the heaviness of the description may refer to the burdens Tommy has to withstand. It may also, however, point to a hidden strength—a strength that lies beneath his "delicacy." It is this combination of strength and delicacy, a quality his father finds negatively effeminate in Tommy, which will allow him to cry with full force at the end of the novel.

Don't you realize…you can't march in a straight line to victory? You fluctuate toward it. From Euclid to Newton there was straight lines. The modern age analyzes the wavers.

Dr. Tamkin tells Tommy this in fourth chapter of the novel, after Tommy has met with his father for breakfast and has been rejected. Tamkin has seen Tommy in the lobby and they have begun to talk, eventually making their way to the market, where they are involved in a joint investment.

The importance of this is that first of all, it illustrates that though Dr. Tamkin may be fraudulent in many ways, he releases truths amidst his fantastic lies or stories. What is important here is that the quote is telling the reader that fluctuation, imbalance, confusion, and unease are all a part of reaching truth. In fact it refers to the idea that Tamkin tells truths in his lies and therefore, reaches the truth in an alternative fashion and not the straight and narrow ways. It also refers to the fact that the "watery grave" on which Tommy seems to be standing, is not a grave but a channel through which he will have to travel to reach his destination, the "reckoning" of his "day of reckoning." Moreover, the symbol of the water itself that is evident throughout the novel not to be the dangerous death that it seems, but in fact it proves to be a life force. In short modern life requires a different path than the past and therefore a different road needs to be paved. Tommy will pave his watery channel with the assistance of Tamkin and the realizations he will eventually reach.

If love is love, it's free

This is said by Dr. Tamkin to Tommy when Tommy claims his love for Olive to have nothing to do with money (Chapter V). This very small statement is quite full of meaning, which points to the most redeeming elements that exist in the novel: love and freedom. Love is the key to freedom. Tommy cannot feel free and become unburdened, for example, until he feels a connection and love for the entire "larger body" of humanity as a whole. He cannot be free until he loves a stranger, the dead man at the funeral in the end. Also, it suggests the fact that his love for Olive is probably "true."

Freedom is mentioned constantly because that is the ultimate goal. In other words, Tommy needs to achieve truth and he needs to recognize his true self, but cannot do that until he is free and vice a versa. Furthermore, it is Dr. Tamkin that is, again, providing him with the path to his destiny. The quote points also the language that Dr. Tamkin is constantly using and which is appealing to an idealist Tommy. It is, after all, the image of Dr. Tamkin that will lead him, in the end to the chapel where he has his final moment of "rebirth."

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