Seize the Day
Tommy continues to think of his father, Dr. Adler, before going to meet him. He thinks of how his father disapproves of his separation with Margaret, his wife. Tommy thinks his father believes that he should be home with his wife and children and not in the hotel with him.
Tommy also thinks that his father does not care about the death of his mother, for he cannot remember the date his own wife died. He becomes angry with this and claims that it was "the beginning of the end" when his mother died. When he tells he recalls telling his father about this, his father does not understand what he means by the "beginning of the end." Tommy thinks also that his father thinks him dirty and untidy. Tommy is not all together neat and he keeps cigarette ends in his pockets, after he has finished smoking them. He thinks all of this and then he chides himself for being a "kid" when dealing with is father.
After much thinking and narrative description on the way to breakfast, Tommy finally meets with his father in the dining hall. However, there is someone at the table, joining them this morning, Mr. Perls. Tommy becomes upset and begins to think that his father has invited Mr. Perls, a hosiery wholesaler who also lives in the hotel, to have breakfast with them because his father does not want to be alone with his son. However, Tommy does not say any of this, he only thinks it.
At breakfast, Dr. Adler tells his son that he takes too many pills. Wilhelm is a pill-popper. He also makes a comment about the fact that Tommy left his wife and, according to the narrator, thinks that his son has disgusting habits. Also, they have a discussion, in front of Mr. Perls about the loss of his job. In this section, moreover, the characters are further revealed to the reader. One finds out that Wilhelm had many an odd job before he became a salesman. For instance, he worked for the WPA and had a hotel job in Cuba. As for Dr. Adler, one comes to the understanding that money, as has been implied until now, does seem to be of great importance to him. For example, at some point in the conversation, Dr. Adler tells Mr. Perls that his son's income had been " up in the five figures."
The chapter ends with a discussion of Dr. Tamkin. Both Dr. Adler and Mr. Perls distrust him and think that he is strange. Tommy, however, defends Dr. Tamkin, given that he likes him, in many ways, and also given that he has entrusted the man with his money.
This chapter illustrates the strain in the relationship between Wilhelm and his father, Dr. Adler. It seems to that Dr. Adler is constantly criticizing his son for his misjudgments, for his mistakes, and his decisions he has made in his life. He reprimands him for not his separation from his wife and he tells him that his idea to work for the competitor of the company that fired him would only lead to embarrassment. He also warns him about Dr. Tamkin. However cruel Adler seems must be balanced out with by the fact that all the information is being filtered through the perspective of Tommy. It is difficult to tell when the narrator is genuinely taking on Dr. Alder's perspective, when he is mocking Tommy's martyr instinct, when he is seeing the events through Tommy's eyes, or when he is being genuinely "true" to life. It is important that we constantly question our view of Dr. Adler. Tommy is a deeply confused man and, thus, there are no real answers or absolute, objective truths. He is drowning in the modern world, in his surroundings, in what he thinks are his failures, and in the eyes of his father.
It is also through this chapter that Dr. Tamkin begins to come to life. He is different from the other characters in the book and seems to be a dreamer, much like Tommy. He is, too, charming, in many ways, much like Tommy is or had once been. In the first chapter, the reader was told that, "Wilhelm had great charm still." In this second chapter we learn the reasons why others might find Dr. Tamkin untrustworthy. For example, Tamkin exaggerates and is perhaps a liar. Here, we learn that Tamkin fantasizes just like Tommy. Mr. Perls tells of the time Tamkin described an underwater suit he wanted to invent so that a man could walk on the floor of the Hudson in case of an atomic attack. This particular statement is significant for various reasons. First of all, again, simply to reiterate, it illustrates that Tamkin is a dreamer. Secondly, it foreshadows, in many ways, that Tamkin will help Tommy. The reason being that the, in this case, this suit he wants to invent serves as a symbol for the figurative "wet suit" he will provide Tommy with, in order to prevent him from "drowning."
Furthermore, America begins to be called into the book as a thematic device. Tommy's response to his father's chastising of Dr. Tamkin for the underwater suit idea is as follows, "Inventors are supposed to be like that. I get funny ideas myself. Everybody wants to make something. Any American does." This statement not only connects Tommy and Tamkin, it also illustrates a certain kind of America—a positive America, a young America, a post-WWII, post- depression America, an America that has just recently entered an age of technology and new industry. It perhaps also points to the fact that although the descriptions of Dr. Adler as a cruel man must be, sometimes, brought into question, it seems to be true that Adler has been a stifling force in Tommy's life. He has not allowed him to develop his "funny ideas," perhaps because they were unlike what Adler views as the image of "success" and prosperity. Adler would much rather have his son be a "salesman" who makes "five figures" than be an eccentric, an actor, a creative being. Finally, it is important to remember that water is important in this book, as it is a recurring motif that carries symbolic meaning. Water is elusive and dangerous and also quite exemplary of flux. Therefore, it should not seem strange if everything in this book seems unstable, if nothing can be read straight away, if the point of view changes constantly. All of this is Bellow's intent, and exists to point further to the character and personality of the protagonist and his "day of reckoning."
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