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As Moses travels on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, he writes letters. Moses is writing to the governor, and then jumps into a letter to Ramona in which he asks her not to take his trip the wrong way. He tells her that he cares for her. He thinks of marrying her, but remembers that he has unfinished business with other women all over the world. He writes another round of political letters, one to Nehru and another to Martin Luther King. Some of his letters go unfinished. The longest letter in the section is to Shapiro, a scholar and writer whose monograph Moses reviewed while he was still in Europe, getting over his divorce.
While Moses writes his letter to Shapiro, he recalls a time when Shapiro visited him and Madeleine in the Berkshires. Madeleine conversed endlessly with Shapiro, but Moses remained mostly quiet. Moses thinks about how Valentine Gersbach excelled at conversation. He thinks about how Madeleine turned into a scholar after pulling Moses away from his own academic position. According to Moses, "ideas and culture" took the place of religion for her. Moses continues his letter to Shapiro, criticizing Shapiro's aesthetic views of history in the face of war. He moves on to a letter to his brother Shura.
The next long letter in this section is addressed to Sandor Himmelstein, who took in Moses when his wife divorced him. He remembers talking to Sandor about the divorce and child custody. Sandor tells him he will never receive custody of the child because he looks pale and disheveled, giving the impression of instability. Sandor gets Moses to agree to an insurance policy that will give June a monthly allowance if Moses should die or suffer a mental breakdown. This disturbs Moses because it proves that Sandor thinks Moses is unstable. They fight, but in the end Moses gives in. Sandor is a tough lawyer, and more of a realist than Moses is. Moses says he was taken by Sandor's embrac, overmastered by what he calls "potato love" as Sandor held him after their fight.
Moses is about to get on the ferry when he is struck by the beauty of the nature around him. He has a good moment by the water, the sun, the light, and the ocean. However, once he arrives at the Vineyard, his mood changes and he begins to think he made a mistake in coming. Libbie waves at him and blows him a kiss when she sees him coming from afar, and Moses feels guilty for planning to exploit her kindness. He decides to go back home. He leaves and is back in his bed by eleven that night. The chapter ends with Geraldine's letter, which was mentioned in the previous chapter. Geraldine, the babysitter, writes that Valentine and Madeleine were having a fight, and Valentine locked June in the car and left her crying there while he went inside to Madeleine. Moses is appalled at the contents of this letter.
Moses' trouble with women continues. While thinking of Ramona, he wonders if a marriage to her will be his salvation: "Be my Wife! End my troubles!" he exclaims to himself. Moses is not unaware of his tendency to seek salvation in marriage. After considering marriage with Ramona, for example, he realizes that he has left "unfinished business" with other women.
In the letter to Shapiro, Moses criticizes a kind of intellectualism in which he occasionally indulges. It also shows Moses' opinion that great human suffering should not be ignored in order to talk about artistic achievement. He becomes angry with Shapiro's "merely aesthetic critique of modern history," saying that Shapiro's mentality is absurd "after all the wars and mass killings!"
Moses' criticism of Shapiro reminds us that Moses' generation lived through a war. Moses also criticizes Shapiro for forgetting his immigrant and Jewish roots. Here and throughout the novel, Bellow writes about the Jewish-American experience. Here, Moses criticizes Shapiro for forgetting his roots, saying, "his father was a peddler," an immigrant, like Moses' own bootlegger father. Moses also talks about the "richness of blood" that should not be forgotten. As much as he criticizes Shapiro, however, Moses has committed many of the same errors as Shapiro. Moses has cloaked himself in intellect and has sought upward social mobility.
In this section, Moses pokes fun at the simple description of modernity as a wasteland, a place of alienation. Moses believes that there is much more to modernity than isolation. Modernity is also about a struggle and a need for humanity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Herzog!