Discuss the theme of Alienation in Saul Bellow’s ‘Seize the Day’.

Seize_The_DayAnswer: Alienation or sense of separation is one of the dominating themes in Bellow’s novel Seize the Day. Saul Bellow is primarily concerned with the well-worn modern dilemma of the individual: desperately isolated and profoundly alone in a society whose only God is money. As the story opens, Bellow’s hero, Tommy feels out of place in this hard world of money, selfishness and exploitation. It is a world which has a non- human and animal like frame work, where feelings ad emotions have no significance.

As the story opens, Tommy is in a state of extreme ignominy, forty four years old, overemotional and heavily dependent. He is caught and crushed in a world devoid of heart in which feelings and emotions have no significance. He is disillusioned in a world where there is no caring and no real communication among the men. In the lower middle class, densely populated section of New York city. Tommy lives in hotel, Gloriana. His father lives also in the same hotel apart from his son. People talk to each other, do business, pass the time or day, but somehow do so only superficially.

The theme of ignominious isolation is established in the first several pages of the novel when Tommy stops to get his morning newspaper from Rubin. Both of them pretend that they are intimate in their talking, but neither of them talks about important issues. Their issues involve only trivial matters such as the weather, Tommy’s clothes, gin game etc. Though both men knew many intimate details of each other’s personal lives neither of them talks about it. As the author says,

“None of these could be mentioned and the great weight of the unspoken left them little to talk about.”

Tommy also thinks” He (Rubin) meant to be conversationally playful, but his voice had no tone and his eyes, solace and lid-blinded, turned elsewhere. He did not want to here. It was all the same to him.”


Tommy’s biological father Dr Adler even refused to become involved in his son’s desperate loneliness. In Tommy’s case his aged, rich and successful father is physically present but emotionally distant. Tommy is badly in need of money which his father could provide him with. But Dr. Adler is greatly pained when the subject is said. More than money, however, Tommy needs communication with an understanding heart. Again and again he appeals repeatedly to his father for compassion. But he endeavors vainly to penetrate the boundary that surrounds his father. The appeal is always futile. He receives nothing from him but selfish advice as his father says,

“I want nobody on my back, Get off! And I give you the same advice, Wilky. Carry nobody on your back.”

 His father’s response is ever old, detached, yet bitter and angry, analytical denunciation of Tommy’s past failures ad present ignominy.

“It made Tommy profoundly bitter that his father should speak to him with such detachment about his welfare. Dr Adler liked to appear affable. Affable! “His own son, his one and only son could not speak his mind or ease his heart to him.”

And in a different way, the circumstances are the same with the rather mysterious Dr. Tamkin, a sort of surrogate father to Tommy. According to Tommy “That the doctor cared about him, pleased him. This was what he earned, that someone should care about him; wish him well, kindness, mercy he wanted. “

Tommy feels that he can talk to and be understood by this doctor. But very soon he becomes frustrated. No consolation comes from this master. At the end of the novel he comes to know that he has merely been used. He apprehends that Dr. Tamkin does not truly care about him or his problems. Tommy sounds-

“I was the man beneath: Tamkin was on my back and I thought I was on his. He made me carry him too, besides Margaret, like this they ride on me with hoofs and claws. Tear me two pieces, stamp on me and breach my bones.”

There are other characters namely- Maurice Venice, Mr. Pearls, old Mr. Rappaport from all these characters Tommy finds no consolation. His wife Margaret has left him but will not agree to make a divorce. Isolation is present between them. Margaret torments and exploits him very much. It is her mission only to victimize her husband. Among others Maurice Venice is another agent of disillusionment Mr. Pearls, a German refuge from a concentration camp and Mr. Rappaport, an elderly clutching player of stock markets. The role of each of these figures only reinforces Tommy’s aloofness.


In Seize the Day the sense of despair and isolation of a modern city dweller is conveyed by the image of a howling wolf. Wilhem is a city- bred man, but still he feels out of place in New York. When night comes he feels like holing from his window like a wolf. He is painfully aware of his isolation.

One of the major themes of Seize the Day is the isolation of the human spirit in modern society. Tommy is estranged from his wife, separated from his son whom he clearly loves. He has lost the respect of his father. He is completely crushed by the oppressive forces around him. In the novel the appeal is for the caring, for a sincere feeling of involvement with mankind.

Bellow furnishes that a loving recognition of the natural bond between hearts is essential to a society, which seems to have lost or seems to be denying all social kinship. At the end of this novel, Tommy recognizes his kinship when he finds himself at a funeral, while searching for Dr. Tamkin. As he looks down on the corpse of a stranger, he feels the basic relationship between himself and all men. A relationship is established in spite of superficial and man-made barriers by the bond of mortality. At the end, Tommy manages to savage his feeling. He realizes what it is to be a man. He remains emotionally alive and he is redeemed by being completely human. Wilhem’s identification of himself with the dead man asserts that the day has not seized him. He has seized the day. He has rejected the animal world of Tamkin which is unnatural and morally chaotic. He has flaws but he is finally redeemed. He has found the “consummation of his hearts ultimate need”.

The picture upholds the disintegration of family life in (American Society) Western Civilization. It is indeed a social picture of American life. The emotional aridity, lack of fellow- feeling has rendered Western Civilization a true Waste land.