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4.2.2 Seize the Day and the disussion about different values

Saul Bellow, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was born in 1915 near Montreal, Canada. Later the family emigrates to the United States.
Seize the Day is the story about Tommy Wilhelm and the conflict with his father. At the age of twenty, he changes his name from Wilhelm Adler into Tommy Wilhelm. Wilhelm goes to California to become an actor, but he does not succeed there. He rejects his father’s profession, medicine. Being without job and money, rejected by his wife and his father, having given his money to the doubious psychologist Tamkin, Tommy Wilhelm finally reconciles with the conditions of human existance, when he accidentally assists in stranger’s burial.
We can find two main conflicts in Saul Bellow’s novel Seize the Day. On the one hand there is the conflict between the father and his son and on the other hand there is a secound conflict, which is related to the first one, the conflict about monetary values.

4.2.2.1 [The Father-and-Son Conflict] /The Father’s World

The failure in the Father-and-Son relationship plays the central role in Saul Bellow’s novel Seize the Day. Both persons have different points of view concerning their lifestyles.

4.2.2.1.1 Dr. Adler as a God-like figure


Dr. Adler, the father, is or was a successful surgeon. His highest values are money and being successful in a capitalist point of view. All other forms of masculine achievement are strictly refused.
A Latin proverb says: „Nomen est Omen“. This proverb goes very well with old Dr. Adler. In German, Germany seems to be the doktor’s original country, Adler means eagle. An eagle is a powerful animal which circels over the andscape. An eagle is might, sees everything and could even be seen as a being which is similar to God. Dutton writes about Dr. Adler’s divine appearance that words like idolized, internal medicine, immaculate and create his own praise  support that idea of divinity and quotes the following lines:
„The handsome old doctor stood well above the other old people in the hotel. He was idolized by everyone. This was what people said: „That’s old Professor Adler who used to teach internal medicine. He was a diagnostician, one of the best in New York, and had a tremendous practice. Isn’t he a wonderful-looking old guy? It’s a pleasure to see such a fine old scientist, clean and immaculate. He stands straight and understands every single thing you say. He still has all his buttons. You can discuss any subject with him.“ The clerks, the elevator operators, the management flattered and pampered him. That was what he wanted. He had always been a vain man. To see how his father loved himself sometimes made Wilhelm madly indignant. . . . The doctor had created his own praise [italics mine].“
Dutton puts italics at very important points – points that he mentioned to be convincing the reader about Dr. Adler’s divinity. `The old doctor stood well above´ shows us the doctor’s extraposition. It’s result is the other elder persons’ idolisation. Dutton then points out Dr. Adler’s knowledge, teaching  internal medicine is on the one hand a complicated part of medicine and on the other hand it makes him divine, because normal human beings cannot see what is within other persons. A further point is the doctor’s outer appearance and mental vitality. He is described as a wonderful-looking old guy, who understands every single thing you say and who you can discuss any subject with.
When introducing the God-like component, you could also say that Dr. Adler has an extraordinary position he can control his son’s life with. He is appreciated by everyone: „He was idolized by everone.“ Though being idolized by the people surrounding him, he does not feel compassion with his son:
„He behaved toward his son as he had formerly done to his patients, and it was a great grief to Wilhelm; it was almost too much to bear. Couldn’t he see – couldn’t he feel? Had he lost his family sense?“
Dr. Adler really behaves God-like and eagle-like at the same time. On the one hand he had helped people when they were his patients in a good way; on the other hand he is unapproachable to his son and does not help him when he needs support.
Dr. Adler has one really typical way of behaving: he is avaricious. Tommy asks his father several times for money, but his father always rejects his demand.
„I can’t give you any money. There would be no end to it if I started. You and your sister would take every last buck from me. I’m still alive, not dead. I am still here. Life isn’t over yet. I am as much alive as you or anyone. And I want nobody on my back. Get off!“
A secound time the father answers even more aggressively:
„`Go away from me now. It’s torture for me to look at you, you slob!´ cried Dr. Adler.“              
A further indicator of his idea about money and its value is his avaricious behaviour. Even when his needs the father’s support and the doctor could help, he refuses and thinks firstly on himself. He not even rejects in a normal way, he even cries, money has become God-like for the old man.

4.2.2.1.2 Dr. Adler and the notion of money

Dr. Adler is a perfect figure in the capitalist system, therefore he is appreciated by his surrounding. As already described above the staff of the hotel care a lot about the former doctor. Dr. Adler cannot accept his son’s school career and present income situation. For this, he even lies:
„`My son is a sales executive. He didn’t have the patience to finish school. But he does all right for himself. His income is up in the five figures somewhere.´
`What – thirty, forty thousand?´ said his stooped old friend
`Well, he needs at least that much for his style of life. Yes, he needs that.´“
This is Dr. Adler’s ideal situation. The state he would to be true, but then we are told about reality:
„He knew the sales executive was no more. For many weeks there had been no executive, no sales, no income. But how we love looking fine in the eyes of the world – how beautiful are the old when they are doing a snow job! It’s Dad, thought Wilhelm, who is the salesman. He is selling me. He should have gone on the road.
But what of the truth? Ah, the truth was that there were problems, and of these problems his father wanted no part. His father was ashamed of him. The truth, Wilhelm thought, was very awkward.“
Old doctor Adler is very ashamed about his son and what he does. He wants to make his friends to believe that his son is successful, that he is like the doctor himself. He speaks about school, but not about the failure and when he speaks about his son’s career, he speaks about the salesamn’s business and figures out an impressing amount of money son earns. Neither he speaks of Tommy’s failed movie career, nor about the fact that his son has recently lost his job. He wants to create a perfect world, free of problems; for this he cannot care about Tommy’s actual problems. They do not fit into this invented perfect world. (((Maurer writes furtheron on Dr. Adler that he does not give any respect to his son, because he does not fit into this perfect world.   
Old doctor Adler still lives in a traditionally European way of life; his surrounding is described in the following way:
„He went into the dining room, which was under Austro-Hungarian management at the Hotel Gloriana. It was run like a European establishment. The pasteries were excellent, especially the strudel. [...] Another one of Dad’s German friends.“  
People, who immigrated to the United States, often keep their traditions and their their life-style. Dr. Adler ressembles other people of Middle-European Jewish background around him, because they like the same things as he does. His son on the other hand cannot cope with that because he already belongs to a new and modern generation which is used to the American way of life.
A further point relying on Europe’s old tradition and circumstances is the idea cleanness. Most immigrants came from a relatively poor background in Europe, a surrounding where there was a lot of dirty – often caused by poverty. Old Dr. Adler, as belonging to such a generation, cannot accept that his son lives in dirt. On the other hand, the doctor uses the water-motive for several reasons: as a medical argument and to keep his son down.
„`Have you gone down to the baths here yet?´
`No, Dad, not yet.´
`Well, you know the Gloriana has the finest pools in New York. Eighty feet, blue tile. It’s a beauty.´
Wilhelm had seen it. On the way to the gin game you passed the stairway to the pool. He did not care for the odor of the wall-locked and chlorinated water.
`You ought to investigate the Russian and Turkish baths, and the sunlamps and massage. I don’t hold with sunlamps. But the massage does a world of good, and there is nothing better than hydrotherapy when you come right down to it. Simple water has a calming effect and would do you more good than all the barbiturates and alcohol in the world.´
Wilhelm reflected that this advice was as far as his father’s help and sympathy would extend.“      
In this case the father is not aggressive at all. He just tell what he thinks and shows in this way what he personally thinks about his son’s behaviour. Firstly, he explains everything in a more or less medically way. He explains that water does good to people, a lot more than alcohol or sedatives. There is no personal care about his son, there is only the doctor-figure who is speaking to Tommy. Secoundly, you can see is this scene that the father uses the water-argument to oppress his son. He treats him a like a child, a patient, a drug addict who does not know about drugs. Drinking alcohol makes the son a lunatic, but as he only clean water, he becomes a superior person, a person who God-like. In this way, he takes a higher position than his son.   


 

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