Seize the Day
Mr. Perls leaves and father and son are left alone to finish breakfast together. Tommy is described as mountainous in this scene and is described eating a great deal, gorging, actually. His father is disgusted by him, by his unseemliness, by his manners, by his "idealistic" look.
Dr. Adler suggests to his son that he should go to the baths, since water cures ailments. He suggests water and exercise. The two then become involved in a discussion about Margaret, Tommy's wife who is asking him for money and is burdening him. Tommy vilifies her and talks about the divorce she refuses to grant him, about the attempted settlement in which he was willing to give her everything if he could just have the dog, Scissors. She refused him the dog. Dr. Adler responds by telling his son that he should not be giving her so much money, that he should not be allow himself to give in to her in the way that he does. He even suggests that his son is acting "effeminately." Dr. Adler confesses to not understanding his son's problems.
There is a scene in which Tommy tries to illustrate to his father that he is suffering and "suffocating" and begins to choke himself, to show his father what his wife is doing to him. His father becomes angry. Tommy tells his father that he could not possibly understand because he cannot compare his deceased wife, Tommy's mother, to Margaret and he cannot compare his success to Tommy's failures. Dr. Adler responds to his son that the reason why he was successful was because he worked hard for what he has and implies that his son has not. They continue to discuss and argue to no avail or understanding about Tommy's problems with his wife and his recent discharge from work.
Also mentioned in this chapter is the fact that Tommy had fallen in love with another woman, whose name will be revealed to be Olive. Margaret had found out and had not granted him a divorce. Moreover, Tommy has been unable to marry the woman he loves.
In the end, Tommy tells his father that he needs his help, that he "expects" his help. The father, however, refuses to give Tommy any money. He tells his son that he will not "carry" him on his back. He follows by telling his son to follow the same advice.
This chapter serves to further illustrate that father and son do not understand each other. This is the most important factor in their relationship. First and foremost, Dr. Adler suggests that his son go to the baths and that he treat himself to water and exercise. However, as has been illustrated in the previous chapters, the last thing a drowning man needs is more water. Moreover, the doctor's advice to his son is ineffective. Furthermore, Dr. Adler admits, straight out, to not understanding his son. "I come from a different world," claims his father. Although, Wilhelm rejects this generation gap as the reason for their differences it is not all together untrue. For, war created another America, and thus, father and son were raised in different worlds and have different belief systems.
For instance, the father seems to have the mindset of an immigrant: work hard and you will succeed. Also, one might describe his mindset as illustrative of the protestant work ethic. America, however, after the war was a prosperous America, and, therefore, Wilhelm, who grew up during the depression and has reached middle age during this time of money and prosperity, has a strange relationship with money. Like many of his generation, he has a strong desire for it, places inordinate emphasis on it, and, at the same time, holds a cynicism toward it. He views it, at times, as an evil.
Another example of the way Wilhelm and his father fail to understand each other is when his father tells him that he makes too much of his problems and that there are more serious things such as illness and accident. Tommy rejects this. However, later in the novel, the reader will see him accept the same advice from Dr. Tamkin. Dr. Tamkin, however, phrases it differently, he tells him not to "marry suffering." Language makes all the difference in communication. Significantly, Tommy and his father do not share the same language. His father's language is too concrete for him, whereas Tamkin's is more poetic and more attuned to Tommy's feelings. Tamkin, therefore, becomes Tommy's surrogate father because they share the same "language."
Dr. Adler is not the only one who misunderstands. Tommy also fails to understand his father. For example, Adler tells his son that his daughter, Tommy's sister has been asking him for money again to rent out a space in which to exhibit her paintings. He says, however, that he will not give it to her because she does not have talent. Adler is trying to illustrate a parallel and compare his son to his daughter. He tries to tell him, in his own way, that he will not give him money, just as he has not given Tommy's sister money. Tommy does not understand his father's way of communicating. Again, there is the problem of language.
Lastly, it is significant that his sister, Catherine, has also changed her name to Philippa. It is quite possible that this may imply that she too has tried to shed herself of her father, in some way. She has changed her first name, the one given to her possibly by her father, and has also shed herself of her last name, through marriage. We learn that she is married when Dr. Adler, in characteristic form, claims that he will not give her money and says, "let her husband pamper her."
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