by: Saul Bellow

Important Quotations Explained

Hegel understood the essence of human life to be derived from history. History, memory—that is what makes us human, that and our knowledge of death.

Moses Herzog says this in the fifth section of the novel, in a letter that he writes to Eisenhower that addresses his Committee on National Aims report. This is typical of Herzog's letter-writing tendencies as well as a good sum-up sentence for the novel. It makes sense that Herzog, who is obsessed with recounting his own history and his own memories, is a believer in Hegel's philosophy. Hegel believed that history was created dynamically by the contradictory and conflicting interests of men, but, at the same time, he believed that this history illustrated a progression. He thought that even though the path was contradictory because of the human beings contradictory impulses, in the end, there is a self-realization. The human being realizes that he has reason and freedom. This, in short, is exactly what happens to the main character of the novel. Bellow has Moses drift through his impulses and thoughts, some of which contradict each other, but, in the end, Moses comes to terms with himself. He comes to a realization and to an understanding of, even, death. All the ambivalent forces that work in the book come together only because Moses learns to accept the ambiguities of his journey and his self.

It is important also that Bellow places this quote at the center of the novel because it is here that Moses begins to understand his journey. The book, although seemingly going nowhere at times, is really a progression just as Hegel illustrates in his philosophy.