Herzog

Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, Herzog traces five days in the life of a failed academic whose wife has recently left him for his best friend.
Grades:
10 |
11 |
Subjects:

Fiction (803)

Novels (148)

Updated on: November 5, 2002
Page 2 of 2

About the Author

Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), which won the National Book Award; Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, in which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."



Discussion Questions

  1. From the beginning, Herzog calls into question his own sanity. Throughout the novel he confronts the concerns and accusations of madness from Dr. Edvig, his brother Shura, Mady, Gersbach, and others. Is Herzog insane? Does the novel follow Herzog from mental illness to mental health? Is Herzog's condition "normal" for an intellectual living at the height of the Cold War?
  2. Discuss the "murder" scene. Does Herzog not carry out the crime? How does this refute immoralism or nihilism? How? Does the action, or non-action, constitute heroism?
  3. Examining the portrayals of Madeleine, Ramona, Zono, Zipporah, Daisy, and the other women in Herzog's life, what generalizations, if any, can be made about Bellow's ideas about women? Are women unknowable to men, as Herzog comes despairingly close to concluding?
  4. In addition to the letters, what else has played a decisive role in Herzog's "cure"? What role, if any, has Ramona played? His brother Shura?
  5. Discuss the geography of Herzog, particularly the four main locales—Quebec, New York, Chicago, Ludeyville. If Ludeyville is meant to represent an Emersonian ideal, albeit an impossible one, what do the other settings signify?
  6. With the vast amount of epistolary material and the great intimacy the narrator has with the hero, we tend to forget that Herzog is not a first-person narrative. Who is the narrator? A removed aspect of Herzog's personality? A competitor to Herzog? His analyst? Where do the narrator and Herzog part ways?
  7. Some of the most moving parts of the book are Herzog's recollections of his childhood on Napoleon Street. Besides informing the reader about details of his past, how do these sections function in the novel as a whole? How do they assist Herzog during his time of crisis?
  8. In his portrait of Dr. Edvig and in the comic "gun" scene with Herzog's father, Bellow parodies psychiatry and Freudian ideas on the hostility between father and son. However, Herzog's cure for his emotional problems is essentially a talking cure, a method pioneered by Freud in which the patient gives voice to his/her deepest anxieties. What kind of view of human psychology does Herzog present?
  9. Most of Bellow's fiction dramatizes the struggles specific to Jewish intellectuals in America. What is significant about Herzog's Jewishness? Is an understanding of his Jewishness indispensable to an understanding of the novel?
  10. Herzog is a novel that champions ordinary experience. At one point, Herzog eulogizes his father, an ordinary man, by saying "his I had dignity." Opposed to the value of ordinariness and the common connections between people are the ideological arguments – Marxism, existentialism, nihilism—of the age. Discuss Herzog's comment at the end of the novel that Mady "brought ideology into my life." Did she? What role did Gersbach play in perverting Herzog's faith in ordinary experience? What about his colleague Shapiro?

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