Critics generally recognize Herzog as a masterpiece and call it one of the most significant works by Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. The novel’s narrative, which switches from limited third person to first person, affords insights into the intellectual mind of Moses Herzog as he works his way through a very disturbed period. Toward the end of the novel, at his home in the country, Herzog starts to regain his composure. He experiences joy for the first time when he communes with nature and finally prepares to stop writing letters. A summary of the plot cannot, however, give a comprehensive impression of the novel’s shifts from past to present, which depict Herzog’s tortured attempts to explain the world and control his life rationally. In the process, he ends up seeing a world in fragments and feeling that his life is disintegrating. Nor can a summary do justice to Bellow’s depiction of Herzog’s capacity for love, his naïve innocence, and the pain he suffers.
The novel captures the texture of the places where Herzog lives. Bellow uses concrete details to create the hectic, indeed frantic life that Herzog lives in New York City and Chicago, as well as the peace he finds in Ludeyville. Like Herzog, the reader becomes immersed in the different sights, sounds, and smells.
Bellow allows the reader inside Herzog’s mind, a mind in chaos and near collapse. The first words of the novel, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog,” are echoed again toward the novel’s end. Herzog first thinks these words after most of the adventures in the book are past, that is, after he has returned to Ludeyville...
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Herzog Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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After its publication in 1964, Herzog became a bestseller, cementing Saul Bellow's reputation with the publicas well as the criticsas one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century. The novel won the National Book Award for fiction and earned Bellow the International Literary Prize, honoring him as the first American recipient. The novel has won praise for its penetrating, sometimes humorous, portrait of a middle-aged man searching for meaning and selfhood in the anxietyridden America of the 1960s.
The novel is a series of fragmented reflections, often revealed in an epistolary, or letter, format. Moses Herzog, the main character, becomes obsessed with writing letters to "everyone under the sun," living or deceased, including his family, friends, enemies, and historical figures. Over the past few months, he has experienced a spiritual and emotional paralysis, triggered by the breakup of his marriage and his contemplation of the wasteland of modern life, "down in the mire of post-Renaissance, post-humanistic, post-Cartesian dissolution, next door to the void." In the letters, Herzog examines and evaluates various philosophical theories, recalls fond images of his childhood, apologizes to ignored friends and lovers, and especially berates those, like his wife and her lover, who have caused his suffering. Seymour Epstein, in his article on Bellow for The Denver Quarterly, notes that the letters reflect a need "to feel a passionate faith in some higher order, intelligence, or idea that will do as medium through which one can seek transcendence."
During the course of the novel, Herzog is forced to cope with his sense of alienation and displacement as he analyzes his past and tries to determine his future. By the end of the novel, his search has resulted in a tenuous, but nevertheless satisfying, restoration of his faith in himself and in humanity.
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