Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

By Leonard Lutwack | Go to book overview
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5
Bellow's Odysseys

The last four novels of Saul Bellow are devoted to a single theme: the effort of a perplexed man to discover enough of himself and reality to continue living in a time of personal and public crisis. Introspection, or the nervous exercise of a contemporary consciousness, is the means of discovery for the disturbed hero and forms the substance of the novels. To supply a narrative ground for the intellectualization and verbalization of his introverted characters, Bellow uses the metaphor of the journey of the man of many troubles, Odysseus. Each of his heroes finds himself alienated from father, wife, and children and undertakes a journey of return in the course of which he experiences death and learns important philosophical lessons. The amounts of introspective and narrative materials vary from novel to novel: in The Adventures of Augie March, a work anticipating the form and theme of the subsequent four novels, the proportion of action to introspection is high, in Seize the Day and Herzog it is quite low, in Henderson the Rain King and Mr. Sammler's Planet a perfect balance is struck. The age of Bellow's Odyssean figure ranges from early middle-age in Henderson to "seventy- plus" in Mr. Sammler's Planet, and the gounds of his perplexity remain about the same. It is the development of different kinds of introspection and the astonishing variety of the journey devised for each new wanderer that

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