Seize the Day
The chapter begins with Tommy feeling burdened by the weight of Tamkin, his wife, and his problems. He leaves he market and goes in search of Wilhelm at his home in the Hotel Gloriana, dodging, on the way, the traffic of the New York streets.
When he arrives at the hotel someone recognizes him as "Dr. Adler's son," but Tommy is concerned mostly with finding Tamkin. He asks for him at the hotel and then goes up to Tamkin's room where he sees his books and his belongings, but not Dr. Tamkin himself. While he is in the room he looks over the doctor's pills while the maid, suspiciously, looks on. Instead of taking any of Tamkin's pills, he takes his own. Upon seeing that Tamkin is not in the room, he goes about trying to find his father, Dr. Adler.
Dr. Adler is not in his room either but in the massage room, where Tommy descends toward to speak with his father. As he enters the basement massage room he passes the naked bodies of older men and finally meets with his father. This is the final confrontation with his father. Tommy asks him, once again, for his help but his father refuses it. He tells his son that he has made mistakes and "acted unwisely," he also tells him that he will not, not ever, carry his son as his "cross." Tommy tells his father that he cannot breathe, that he is choking but his father does not comply with his pleas. Dr. Adler asks his son to leave.
After this confrontation Tommy goes in search of Dr. Adler once more but is instead confronted with another climactic argument. Someone relays an urgent message to him from his wife, worried that it might concern his children, he calls back immediately. She had called to reprimand him for sending a post-dated check. They proceed to get into a heated argument in which he tells her, just as he told his father, that he is suffocating and that she is choking him and that he cannot breathe. She does not seem to care and refuses to make it "easy for him" to leave her. She eventually hangs up on him and he is left a raving mess. He becomes violently angry, trying to rip out the phone from the wall.
However, when he goes out onto the street he has moment similar to that which he had in Times Square, in an earlier chapter. He finds "in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence." But he is called out of this feeling by a whirlpool of memory, he remembers everything that is wrong in his life and then he believes to see Tamkin in the near distance, at a nearby funeral. Before he realizes it he is being carried by a crowed and ends up inside the chapel where the funeral of a stranger is taking place. It is here, at this funeral, that the book ends. Tommy finds himself before the body of a dead stranger and begins to cry and cry and cry. His tears swell and he "cries with all his heart." The book ends with strangers wondering who he is and how he knew the deceased and it ends with redeeming tears.
It seems as though, in this very last chapter, Tommy is discovering who he is. The question is at least posed by the author. Bellow has him go through a process of elimination of sorts. For instance, the chapter begins with Tommy using the language of his father. He claims that he is "carrying" Tamkin on his back, as well as his wife and all of his problems. This is precisely the language his father used in giving his son advice: he told him to never "carry anyone on his back." It begins with this adoption of language but it is as though, by the middle of the chapter, Tommy has necessarily shed his father. Tommy needs to see himself as more than Tamkin's surrogate son, as more than his pupil, as more than his father's son. Therefore, Tamkin needs to abandon him and his father needs to reject him. It is for this reason that, in this chapter, as soon as Tommy enters the hotel, a person asks him if he is Dr. Adler's son. In short, Tommy will have to learn to be more than just someone's son if he is going to come to any kind of understanding.
The same kind of thinking applies to the reason for the argument with his wife. He needs to see himself as more than just Margaret's husband. He needs to stop caring so much what others think of him and he needs to begin to see the world through his own eyes and not through "blind" eyes or through the surrogate eyes of others. It is only when he is left completely alone that he can begin to piece together the puzzle.
Bellow is a master of juxtaposition because it seems as though he is saying that truth can only be reached through paradox and through confusion. After his raving fit of anger, Tommy goes out into the street and is able to begin to see humanity once more: he sees "motive" and "essence." Tommy thinks, "I labor, I spend, I strive, I design, I love, I cling, I uphold, I give way, I envy, I long, I scorn, I die, I hide, I want." Tommy can see these basic human needs in people because he can, for once, clearly see them in himself and so a moment of solidarity is again juxtaposed against a moment of terrible angst and isolation.
Furthermore, it takes the death of a stranger for Tommy to come to a complete rebirth. It is only through distance and separation, ironically, then that Tommy can achieve understanding. There is distance between those who have caused him grief and there is a rare "distance" the dead human being that will lead him to understanding. The understanding comes in the form of tears—water. Finally, water has become a redeeming force, after having been such a dangerous one throughout. Water symbolizes, here, a kind of rebirth. The tears are a "happy oblivion," and they lead him to the "consummation of his heart's ultimate need." In the course of one day, Tommy has learned his hearts desires and has learned to melt away his mask and armor. He has used his "day of reckoning," wisely, for once. He began this chapter using his father's language but ends the chapter with a discovery of his own language: feeling, tears, and love.
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