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Seize the Day

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Seize the Day

author  Saul Bellow (Solomon Bellows)

type of work  Novel or Novella

genre  Modern novel, American novel, Novella. The novel has even been called a Jewish- American novel although, when asked, Bellow considered himself more "American" than "Jewish," or "Jewish-American."

language  English

time and place written  Written in 1956 when the Bellow was in New York

date of fist publication  1956

publisher Seize the Day as it first appeared, the title story of a collection including three short stories and a one-act play, was first published by The Viking Press, 1956. Later, it was published independently in Great Britain, in 1957, by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

narrator  An omniscient third person narrator that fluctuates in and out of the minds of all the characters in the novel, but takes on primarily the voice of the protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm.

point of view  The point of view is primarily that of the protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm. However, this is one of the great innovations of the novel. The point of view changes as does the tense. Most often, the narrator takes Tommy Wilhelm's point of view, but the point of view does also encompass the thoughts of other characters, such as Dr. Adler, Tommy's father. It is this shift in point of view that makes the narrator difficult to read, and it brings about the question of how to read parody, irony, paradox, and the narration's occasional ridicule of the main character.

tone  The authorial tone is dark and constantly in flux, just as is the character's. It is analytical, however, in it's constant changing. It illustrates the dark and solemn mood of the modern mad but finds redemption in its ultimate optimism.

tense  The tense fluctuates between past and present. Most of the time the narrator follows Tommy Wilhelm through the actions of one day but the action is constantly interrupted by flashbacks into the past and dives into the mind of the characters.

setting (time)  1950's in America, within the time frame of one day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm. Flashbacks occur about times from 1930s to 1950s.

setting (place)  New York (with the occasional change of backdrop in accordance with the flashbacks).

protagonist  Tommy Wilhelm. His original birth name was Wilhelm Adler. His father calls him Wilky. His grandfather called him Velvel.

major conflict  The burdens of a modern man. Tommy Wilhelm finds himself jobless, a failure in the eyes of his father, separated from his wife, in love with a woman he cannot marry because his wife will not grant him a divorce, under financial duress, and amidst a failed investment venture.

rising action  Tommy's confrontations with his father and his wife. His failed joint venture in the stock market and his relationship with Tamkin. The final rejections of his father and wife and, finally his encounter at the funeral of a dead stranger.

climax  When he finds himself at the funeral of a dead stranger and is moved to tears.

falling action  The surging tears of redemption, "happy oblivion," and understanding that Tommy experiences at the funeral of a stranger at the very end of the novel.

themes  The predicament of modern man, the internal life of a human being

motifs  Psychology, naturalism (the animal), and the city (urban landscape)

symbols  Water, clothing, and Olive

foreshadowing  The fact that the elevator at the beginning is "descending" and "sinking" foreshadows danger ahead–a kind of symbolic foreshadowing for the purgatorial, even hellish, environment of the rest of the novel and Tommy's state of mind.