Seize the Day

ISBN: 0670000914
ISBN 13: 9780670000913
By: Saul Bellow

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About this book

Deftly interweaving humor and pathos, Saul Bellow evokes in the climactic events of one day the full drama of one man's search to affirm his own worth and humanity.

Reader's Thoughts


While Seize the Day is the first Saul Bellow book I have read, it sure as hell won't be my last! The book is set in a New York hotel off Broadway in the 1950s, (contemporaneous with when it was published) following the struggles of Tommy Wilhelm, a man in his mid forties who is the youngest member of the residence, the rest being Jews over the age of 70, including Tommy's own respected doctor father. Tommy has been a failure at everything; first acting, then his marriage, and most recently, his salesman job. Now, he can't even afford to make rent, and casts his lot in with the shadowy, possibly corrupt Doctor Tamkin. (Who might not even be a doctor!) Remarkably, in just 114 pages, Bellow creates a vivid, tangible world. While he is describing a by-gone era, I can recognize many of the individuals and personalities. Even minor characters feel distinctly alive. And his depth in portraying the thoughts and feelings of characters is incredible. Tommy is at once pathetic and sympathetic, a reflection of the weakness and broken dreams we all carry inside of ourselves. And yet, he is a fully realized character on his own, too. One reservation I had before starting the novel was whether it would be a dry character study and little else. I shouldn't have. Seize the Day is exciting, engaging, and sometimes even funny in a tragicomic manner. Every sentence feels significant. And the ending is the perfect, adequate conclusion to the tale of Tommy Wilhelm and his failures. This is an outstanding, all-time great book, and I would unreservedly recommend it to anyone.


Though I wasn't sure what to think of it when I started it, by the end of the book I came to like it.It's not easy to decide wether you like the main character or you hate it - at least for me it wasn't. I had to thoroughly think about his qualities and his deffects in order to see him in his complexity. After all that, I made my decision - I would not make a decision. I thought it best to remain impartial, and not pronounce on the matter.I had many times heard that Saul Bellow was one of the biggest writers that America had given to the world, and I have to agree with that. He has a different pattern, an unique talent to portray people and places (but mainly people) by full description in few words. All in all, a good read which I recommend to everyone!


I liked this book. It is about a man in his 40s whose life is falling apart and who is facing failure, and his relationship with his successful father who is a proud, well-respected doctor consumed with the idea of death in his old age. The entire (though short) book takes place in one day. I thought the book was very well-written and that Bellow really got at the psychological depth of these two people and their relationship with his insane attention to the most telling but minute details of their interactions and thoughts. I can't say that it was a particularly memorable book or that it blew me away, but I really like Bellow's writing style and it makes me curious to read his other books.


A truly great book, so unusual in many ways, a book so totally about abysmal failure. It's hard to imagine that someone could write like this about the anti-hero protagonist, there's no sex or romance, just a broken marriage (wife and kids remain off-stage the entire book), no real action of any sort, just the almost surreal helplessness and the father-son conflict that seemed to me to be right out of Kafka, a book that scoffs at the American dream and deals in lard futures. The unforgettable Dr. Tamkin. And then there's Bellow's incredible prose that can go seamlessly from a learned, erudite philosophical style to the rhythm of slangy 1950s New York conversations.

احمد هلال

الحمد لله رب العالمين- العلاقة بين الابن و أبيه ، قد تضطرب لاقدر الله ،و تسوء بسبب حمق الأبن و إصراره على سلوك طريق معين ، الكاتب الأمريكى سول بيلو رسم لوحة رائعة بروايته أغتنم الفرصة ، فالأب فى الرواية طبيب ناجح ولكن أبنه شاب يتنكب نصائح الأب فيترك الجامعة بحثا عن هليود فيفشل فى هليود ويخسر الجامعة و يخسر تقدير والده و يعمل مندوبا للمبيعات ويتزوج و لضعف شخصيته تستغله زوجته فتسنزفه و تنفصل عنه ولكنها تظل ترسل له الفواتير ، و يظل هو طوال فصول الرواية يستجدى عطف أبيه ، و يستدين منه الأموال بلا مقابل ، و لكن الأب يضجر من ولده فى النهاية، ونرى الأبن ولا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله ، تعيس فى كل شئ ، استطاع سول بيلو أن يشرح بسهولة بالغة الكثير من المشاعر الإنسانية التى تربط بين الأب الغاضب على ابنه و بين هذا الأبن الذى يخالف والده ويعود فى كل مرة بالخيبة و الخسران فيستجدى عطفه و أمواله..

David Berry

I can’t decide if Bellow’s choice of title was sincere or ironic. Carpe diem, Horace writes, quam minimum credula postero. Seize the day, put little faith in tomorrow. For Tommy Wilhelm, Bellow’s protagonist, his guide to the future is an occasionally insightful, often deceptive psychologist, Dr. Tamakin. Together, Wilhelm and Tamakin speculate on agricultural futures. (The spiritual emptiness of this profession reminds me of Faulkner’s Jason Compson). But betting on the future brings only ruin. Surely, Bellow was sincere in his allusive title. Then again, Horace instructs his reader to limit his hopes to today. Enjoy wine and friends, not lofty pursuits. Bellow, in contrast, affirms a fundamentally spiritual longing: What does it mean to be a man?Seize the Day is plainly autobiographical in many ways. Like Bellow, Wilhelm grapples with a broken marriage, estranged children, and a financially successful father disappointed in his progeny. He struggles to maintain a Jewish identity in his old Hollywood days, even changing his name. Wilhelm has literary inklings, remembering lines of John Milton’s “Lycidas.” Yet Wilhelm is different enough from his creator to take on his own life. He is not incisive; he cannot quite articulate his own suffering. Only at the novel’s end, at a stranger’s funeral, does he at last find expression—tears so flowing that the other mourners wonder what close relation he had to the deceased. Wilhelm needs Bellow to make sense of his inchoate grief.Though the novel spans only a single day, Bellow’s prose proceeds with sharp pace. He restrains aesthetic flourish in favor of description and dialogue, but when the flourish does appear, it is sublime. Near the depth of his fall, Wilhelm walks out onto Broadway to find “it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight.” Sunlight inspires more trite, tired descriptions than almost any other occurrence, but only a fine writer indeed sees that to the truly forlorn, it is as heavy as lead. In this moment, Wilhelm (or is it Bellow) updates Walt Whitman’s New York democratic euphoria with modern anxiety:And the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence—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. Faster, much faster than any man could make the tally.Bellow, tally maker of the untallied. His sensitive man Wilhelm is left over, alienated from a world with mindless energy, a world run by money. (More than any other novelist I’ve read, Bellow understands what money means to men). Out of the masses of humanity, Wilhelm finds his epiphany in a dead stranger. The sane if sad thing to do is to pause and consider what awaits.


I adored this book. What vitality and insight!I think this book is basically a struggle between a father and a son. The son, Tommy Wilhelm, seems to be in the wrong (a slob who was irresponsibly narcissistic when he tried to be a movie star), yet because he is the protagonist, we identify with him and we are challenged to see how he could be in the right.I think the way he's right is that there is a part of each of us that wants to fail, that feels sad, that wants to be childish and get immediate gratification. And if we not only tame that part of ourselves but kill it in the way Tommy's father seems to have done--become all discipline, righteousness, and capitalist upward mobility (Tommy's father was a successful doctor whose body is neat and well-maintained, just the opposite of Tommy)--we are doing violence to ourselves.Bellow seems to be working with something like the collective unconscious--society is like a giant mind or personality, and each person is doing work for society by embodying one of its aspects or emotions.An amazing piece of work.


Apolgies in advance for skipping over the plot summary, but here's what I think I learned from this book:1) Bellow, like Banville, is a master of characterization, the expression of character through movement, reaction, idiosyncrasies, etc. It's not just what they look like and what they're wearing (though this is important) it's what these things say about the character and how they're expressed through speech, interaction with others, moments of isolation, etc. It can't be all wooden descriptions of the external or the seething turmoil of the internal. If you want a reader to emotionally connect with your character you have to do both. Not just once or twice, but always. In a sense, Bellow is never not doing this and that's how the story advances. 2) The unlikable hero. Wilhelm is repugnant, utterly so. He fits the profile of a man about to hit bottom and though it's plain that he needs to embrace change he can't (or won't) until the collapse, which is inevitable, comes. Everyone around him acts consistently: his father finds him repugnant, the conman fleeces him, his estranged wife browbeats him -- as we would certainly do if we were in these positions. Wilhelm's personal habits are despicable, his weaknesses profound, he is incapable of change; however, his desire for it makes him somehow sympathetic. He wants what we all want: enough to get by on and to put our problems behind us, but instead of the high roads he takes the low, which ends up being a roundabout. He's doomed and Bellow makes us care. 3) When you truly inhabit a character, the chosen mode of expression becomes an almost arbitrary distinction. Ostensibly this is an third person, past tense, omniscient narrator deal, but Bellow uses first person present tense, second person direct address, even stream of consciousness in order to get inside his protagonist's head. Bellow's approach is "by any means necessary." Seize the Day is reminiscent of some of the Leopold Bloom sections of Ulysses, particularly toward the end where Wilhelm starts to recede, almost as if he is being absorbed into the city that he will probably leave. This is really a fascinating little book that I imagine I'll come back to again. As a writer who obsesses over the mechanics of story, Seize the Day is wonderfully instructive. Also, Cynthia Ozick's introduction is awfully impressive.


Astonishingly powerful novella structured around a day in the life of an actor manqué as he deals with a shrewish ex-wife, an untrustworthy "psychiatrist" who entangles him in the stock market, an icy father who (understandably) has grown tired of helping his middle-aged son out of financial binds, and with assorted feelings of acedia, alienation and desperation. In a brief number of pages, Bellow builds a very convincing miniature panorama of a single man adrift in an urban and emotional wasteland, with the protagonist's increasing distress becoming uncomfortably palpable as the day wears down. The book is not a total downer, though: there is snappy humor throughout, along with a sense of zestful wonder at the miracle of simply being alive (hey, don't roll your eyes!). The true knockout comes at the end: a conclusion that is as stirring and cathartic as any other that comes to mind.

Fred Bubbers

Originally published in 1957, Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is considered one of the twentieth century’s finest works of fiction. It chronicles a single day in the life of one Tommy Wilhelm, a failed middle-aged actor, living on a precipice. Out of work, nearly broke, and estranged from his wife and children, he is haunted by all of the setbacks in his life and is searching for salvation in the form of an easy financial win that will solve all of his problems. On the advice of a mysterious psychologist, Dr. Tamkin, he has invested the last of his savings in the commodities market. Dr. Tamkin’s advice extends beyond investing and he provides advice to Wilhelm on how he should shed the burdens of his failed past and live in the here-and-now, in other words, to “Seize the Day.”Tamkin’s council and Wilhelm’s inability to shed his burdens only serve to heighten Wilhelm’s sense of failure. Wherever he seeks sympathy, whether it be his estranged wife who continues to make financial demands on him while refusing to divorce him or his father, a comfortably retired doctor, finds nothing but reminders of his failures.Born Wilhelm Adler, he changes his name to Tommy Wilhelm to further his acting career. His career never takes off and so he fails in his attempt to actually become Tommy Wilhelm, a failure he is constantly reminded of by his father who insists on addressing him as “Wilky,” his childhood name.Seize the Day is a distinctly American story. Whereas British fiction from Daniel Defoe on up through today’s Ian McEwan is preoccupied by social and economic class distinctions, American society prides itself on being free from class. No matter what station we are born into, we believe that through hard work, perseverance, and strength of character we can succeed. If we do not succeed, it is obviously due to some flaw in our character. American fiction has always explored the chasm that exists between that Great American Ideal (and mythology) and the stark reality that the Universe has no concept of fairness. American literary characters, unlike their British counterparts, are therefore imbued with a greater sense of anomie. While British heroes and heroines may struggle to overcome the rigid class distinctions in their society, and usually fail, there is at least the idea that there is a sense of order in the Universe, no matter how harsh it may be. American literary figures, from Dreiser’s Clyde Griffiths to Fitzgerald’s James Gatz to Salinger’s Holden Caulfield to Miller’s Willy Loman, fight not against society but against nothingness.Years after writing Seize the Day, Bellow said in interviews that never liked Tommy Wilhelm very much. Indeed, Wilhelm is not particularly likable and the reader is likely to feel as much sympathy for him as the other characters in the novella. “Stop whining, be a man, get a job!” we want to say to him. And yet, the story is compelling and unconsciously reaches those hidden parts of our psyche that fear the stark nothingness, and leads us to the novella’s surprisingly cathartic conclusion.


This was Bellow's next work of fiction after The Adventures of Augie March (1953). It is that problematic piece of fiction called the "novella," somewhere between a short story and a novel. In fact, it was published in a volume containing an additional three short stories and a one-act play. Even over fifty years ago, publishers worried that the public would not pay the price of a whole book for such a short work. Of course, since Bellow packs so much in just a sentence, this is not a valid concern. In Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm, so unsure of who he is that he changed his name as a young man, is now facing up to being a failure in early middle-age. He has tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood, he has lost his job as a salesman, left his wife and landed in a residence hotel filled with retired old men, including his father. Tommy is a typical Bellow character: basically despicable but somehow endearing. We follow him through a tortured day. He has a sadly contentious breakfast with his father, takes a beating from the wife via phone and hangs out with the mysterious Dr Adler, who poses as a successful psychologist but may just be a hustler. You see, Tommy has not been a good 1950s American male. He has been impulsive, emotional and most damning of all, he has not made much money. In fact, he is out of money and has allowed Dr Adler to convince him to invest his last $700 in the commodities market. I enjoyed, if that is the right word, Bellow's story because it was so apt in today's times, with our extreme emphasis on material success. Due to the tanked economy, we may be in for a large shift of importance and have to suffer Tommy Wilhelm's agony as an entire culture. Tommy is looking for his humanity in the falling price of lard. So poignant, yet so hilarious.


Bellow is an author I have been meaning to get to for a long time now. Known for attention to detail and his intense characterization using physical attributes he is certainly one of the most respected authors of the 20th Century. Seize the Day is about one man's epiphany while mired in a life that just isn't measuring up to his and other's expectations. A failed actor, failed business man, failed husband, failed son and failed father our protagonist has not met much success despite his being a well-meaning individual. With a protagonist facing up to so many problems, Bellow gives himself a chance to philosophize on a lot of what ails the modern man. He offers some poignant commentary on the self-imposed suffering that so many people are afflicted with, and the inability of people to get past their problems and make progress in their lives. As the book builds to it's emotional and rather cathartic climax I think Bellow does a splendid job of supplying a real in depth look at why so many of us are unhappy.

Jay Gertzman

What is the remedy for the universal self-interest that strangles what is supposed to be democracy? It is exemplified by the humble wise man in Malamud’s The Assistant, the image of light in Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, the wandering Jew in Scholem Asch’s The Nazarene, and the failed actor in Bellow’s Seize the Day. This response is the intuition of salvation conferred by a religiosity that depends on Jesus and the Jewish roots of his mysticism. Malamud said he “tried to see the Jew as universal man.” Alan Ginsberg, in the tear-filled process of writing of his mother’s madness and death in Kaddish, had a similar mystic, possibly Hasidic, insight, realizing “a great majesty and tenderness to life, a kind of instantaneous universal joy at creation.” In Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm is close enough to the end of his rope to see sympathy with other people as the saving torture it is. His estranged wife and his father turn their backs on his weepy, morally indignant pleading. His father (Dr. Adler; Tommy had adopted a stage name) uses odd imagery. He will not let his son become his “cross. I’ll see you dead, Wilky, by Christ, before I let you do that to me.” He thus justifies his self-insulation from pity. Leave that for Jesus. Tommy, a schlemiel out of Singer yarn, gets hooked up with Tamkin, a luftmensch (pointed shoulders, “claw-like” finger nails, pigeon toes, “deceiver’s brown eyes”), a noonday demon like those who take over Singer’s stories, or the golems, dybbuks, and soul-eating Liliths of Ozick’s tales (see “The Pagan Rabbi”), and those of a later writer, Steve Stern.Tamkin, kibitzing, tells Tommy everyone has two souls, a “pretender soul” who guides a poor schmuck into the thickets of worldly comfort, and the “true” one, originating in the Hasidic concept of the “true world.” In Tommy, the pretender soul is prostrate in defeat. His true soul, therefore, is all exposed. As Bellow put it in Herzog, Tommy faces “submission to the fate of being human.” This Jewish nudnick has become an avatar of Christ. I wonder if this novella (1956) did not inspire J D Salinger a few years later, when Zooey tells Franny that the average torpid, unwell person listening to their quiz-kid radio show is "the fat lady" and "Christ himself."

Erez Davidi

This is the first work by Saul Bellow that I have had the chance to read. I decided to start with this short novella, well… chiefly because it’s short. But also because I found the title “Seize the Day” to be intriguing.“Seize the Day” follows 24 hours in the life of Tommy Wilhelm, a 40-year old New Yorker, whose life is in shambles. He has two children and a wife, and although technically still married, they no longer live together. Wilhelm is also unemployed and pretty much out of money and luck, while at the same time having a troublesome relationship with his successful doctor dad, whose approval and sympathy he is desperately seeking. I thought that Bellow brilliantly illustrated the isolation that many people feel in our modern world. Although Wilhelm is almost never alone (many scenes in this novella take place in crowded places) he is feeling isolated and lonely more than ever. Though short, Bellow was able to create quite memorable characters along with bits of wisdom. Here are two beautiful quotes that I couldn't resist adding, “You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of the first half.” and “Bringing people into the here-and-now. The real universe. That's the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real--the here-and-now. Seize the day.” Although “Seize the Day” is not considered to be one of Bellow’s greatest works, I still quite enjoyed it. I will definitely read one of Bellow’s longer works.


Bellow is a master."On Broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight, and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. And the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence - 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. Faster, much faster than any man could make the tally."

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