View Full Version : Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

Michael Wolfe
08-23-2011, 04:39 AM

I finished Seize the Day a couple of months ago, and have just started thinking about it again, in the past few days. I'd be interested to hear any thoughts or opinions from folks who have read this novel.

I found the book to be worthwhile, but somewhat perplexing, especially the ending. When Bellow refers to the heart's ultimate need, what is he referring to, exactly?

Any other thoughts?

08-23-2011, 05:22 AM
Read it and forgot it.

The Dangling Man, on the other hand, I remember well. Still, I have the book you mention in my bookcase and will read it again sometime in the next week and get back to you. :)

Michael Wolfe
08-23-2011, 05:36 AM
Thanks Harry. I'd be most interested to hear your thoughts.

08-24-2011, 08:49 AM
just finished it recently myself, and as for the heart's ultimate need...I think that Wilhelm is referring to the need to be understood, at least that's the way I viewed it in very general terms

he needed his father to understand him, his decision to leave his wife, his decision to not be like his father, his decision to fight it out, LIFE, on his own despite all of it...and mostly, I think he needed his father's understanding of his NEED in and of itself and the more you see Wilhelm floundering to be understood, the more effective the story is...at least in my opinion

to me, I read this as a hard examination of a father-son relationship done through a snapshot of this one day where the two of them are meeting for coffee even though it's obvious that neither of them want to be there...ironically, I felt that Wilhelm, while sympathetic, was also quite naive and selfish himself in not seeing what his father goes through by being utterly alone

In the end, alone is what they both are and it's that struggle to NOT let the other one see it while desperately wanting the other one to acknowledge it that makes this work and breaks my heart


so, that's my take on it...for what it's worth

08-24-2011, 08:57 AM
I think I need to read this. The only Bellow I ever read was Mr. Sammler's Planet, thirty-odd years ago, for a lit class. I didn't much like it, but I don't think it's now considered one of his higher achievements. Thanks for the heads-up.


Michael Wolfe
08-27-2011, 04:33 PM
You're right, Mr. Sammler's Planet isn't generally considered one of his best. I've heard many people say that The Adventures of Augie March is his masterpiece. That's the next Bellow I plan to read.

In response to Milly - I see that you mentioned the need to be understood, and then also Wilhelm's being alone.

There are so many ways to intepret the heart's ultimate need, imo, and I think what you said seems like a valid interpretation.

It occurred to me that overcoming loneliness would seem like a sensible interpretation, because it fits so well with the final scene. He's crying over a person he's never met before, and one of the bystanders says, "It must be someone real close to carry on so."

And yet, as the readers know, it's not.

Wilhelm is expressing his need to overcome his loneliness by breaking down and crying over the man. Or maybe not, but that's one possible way to look at it. :)

09-02-2011, 11:45 PM
Sorry for my tardy response to this thread, but I done been busy. :)

When Bellow refers to the heart's ultimate need, what is he referring to, exactly

Christ knows what Bellow was thinking, but here's my interpretation.

The last scene is a funeral, in fact, I first read it as literally Wilhelm's own funeral due to the abrupt end of his thought whilst he's rushing madly in the busy street. This line of thought led me to read the end of the book in terms of who the corpse meant to represent to Wilhelm.

I think that the corpse is representative for Wilhelm of both himself and his father (the corpse is described as a sort of cross between father and son) and that this view gives a possible answer to Micheal's question.

On the final page of the book, a bystander at the funeral, who could be talking about the likeness of the corpse and the corpse's brother or the corpse and Wilhelm, says,

'They're not alike at all. Night and Day.'

The ambiguity of who the bystander is talking about can be transposed to the corpse that, in my interpretation, represents both Wilhelm and his father.

That is to say that the new Wilhelm (post epiphany) has freed himself from, and therefore is different to, the old Wilhelm (as represented by the corpse) and, more importantly, that Wilhelm is nothing like his father (also represented by the corpse).

In relation to the question Micheal asked, this interpretation may stand or fall on what it is that Wilhelm hears that leads to the 'consummation of his hearts ultimate need'.

The line, 'He heard it.' is immediately after there is music, however, the last line of dialogue he would've heard is ...

'They're not alike at all. Night and Day.'

So, in my interpretation, his hearts ultimate need is to be declared different from his father.

Here the view that the corpse is representative of both Wilhelm's old self and his father works on the two levels that only need a singular 'ultimate need.'

Throughout the story (although he often protests it) Wilhelm is like his father in many ways and therefore the old father-like Wilhelm corpse can be seen as being different from the new (epiphany improved Wilhelm) just as he can enjoy being seen as different as 'night and day' from his father when you see the corpse as his old man.

I think my thinking in this may also have been swayed by reading Bellow's, The Dangling Man, in which the protagonist comes across a picture of his grandfather and knows that as he ages the old man will reclaim his face.

So I think that Bellow has a bit of a theme about the impossibility/possibility of escaping the awfulness of your antecedents and that this not only means your parents but the actions of humanity past as well.

Having said that, and pretty badly (I hope it made sense), I also see Milly and Micheal's interpretations as valid and would add that it his 'ultimate need' could be the death of his father or, more simply, to be loved.