| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
The son of immigrant parents from Russia, Saul
Bellow grew up in a Jewish ghetto of Montreal, Canada, where he learned Yiddish,
Hebrew, English, and French. In 1924 his family moved to Chicago, a city that
often appears in his fiction. After earning a bachelor’s degree from
Northwestern University, in 1937 he entered the University of Wisconsin at
Madison to study anthropology but left there in December to become a writer.
Employed for a brief period with the Works Progress Administration Writers
Project, he led a bohemian life until World War II, whereupon he served in the
Merchant Marine. After the war, he taught at the University of Minnesota in
Minneapolis and other schools, traveled in Europe, and lived in Paris for a
period of time. Since 1963 he has been a professor at the University of
is usually considered to be one of America’s most important contemporary
writers; his work impresses one with its diversity of style, the profundity of
its content, and its scope. Bellow published his first novel, The Dangling Man,
in 1944; it is a diary of a demoralized man who is left “dangling” with no real
purpose as he waits to be drafted. Three years later, Bellow published The
Victim, which borrows the technique of the Doppelgänger from Dostoevski’s The
Eternal Husband. In this second novel, he depicts the intense psychological
battle between the Jew Asa Leventhal and his “double,” the Gentile Kirby
the late 1940s, Bellow became disenchanted with the “modernist” “victim
literature” of his first two novels. Detached in tone, these restrained works
followed “repressive” Flaubertian formal standards. With The Adventures of
Augie March (1953), Bellow broke free from the “modernist” chains that bound
him. In contrast to the two morose early novels, this open-ended, picaresque
narrative with its flamboyant language, zany comedy, and exuberant hero affirms
the potential of the individual, his imagination, and the worth of ordinary
subsequent novels develop the themes of The Adventures of Augie March. Seize
the Day (1956) is a dark comedy that depicts the day of reckoning in the life
of Tommy Wilhelm, “a loser” who is spiritually reborn at the very end of the
work. Henderson the Rain King (1959) is the story of an eccentric, energetic
millionaire who journeys to the heart of Africa and experiences fantastic
adventures. Herzog (1964), an enormous critical and financial success, depicts
the intense psychological struggles of a professor who is on the verge of a
mental breakdown as a result of his divorce from his second wife and the
betrayal of his best friend. The Dean’s December (1982) confronts more directly
than any of Bellow’s other novels political and social problems; Bellow
contrasts the near anarchy of the slums of Chicago with the authoritarianism of
the Communist world and sees a “moral crisis” in both West and East. Ravelstein
(2000) is a meditative and autobiographical novel that explores a variety of
subjects but focuses on friendship, memory, and death.
has also written short stories, some of which are collected in Mosby’s Memoirs
and Other Stories and Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories, a
non-fiction book on Israel, To Jerusalem and Back, several plays, and a number
of essays, some of which are collected in It All Adds Up. He has received many
awards for his writing, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.
is a master of narrative voice and perspective; he is a remarkable stylist who
can move with ease from formal rhetoric to the language of the street. A great
comic writer, perhaps America’s greatest since Mark Twain, he explores the
tragicomic search of urban man for spiritual survival in a materialistic world
hostile to the imagination and “higher meanings.”
Southwest Texas State University
In the Heath Anthology
Looking for Mr. Green
The Adventures of Augie March
Seize the Day
Henderson the Rain King
Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories
Mr. Sammler's Planet
To Jerusalem and Back
The Dean's December
Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories
More Die of Heartbreak
The Bellarosa Connection
Something to Remember Me By
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Contains a biography and a transcript of Bellow's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Perspectives in American Literature
Paul Reuben's site providing a primary and secondary bibliography and suggested avenues for analysis.
Information about Bellow's Nobel Prize, a biography, and a literary introduction.
Saul Bellow Society and Saul Bellow Journal
Provides access to the bibliographies of many Bellow-related articles.
Allan Chavkin, "The Problem of Suffering in the Fiction of Saul Bellow," Comparative Literature Studies, 21 (Summer 1984): 161-174
David Demerest, "The Theme of Discontinuity in Saul Bellow's Fiction: 'Looking for Mr. Green' and 'A Father-to-Be.'" Studies in Short Fiction, 6 (Winter 1969): 175-186
Marianne Friedrich, Character and Narration in the Short Fiction of Saul Bellow, 1995
Daniel Fuchs, Saul Bellow: Vision and Revision, 1984
Sanford Marovitz, "Back to the Beginning: A Late Look at Bellow's Early Stories," Small Planets: Saul Bellow and the Art of Short Fiction, ed. Gloria Cronin and Gerhard Bach, 2000
Keith Michael Opdahl, The Novels of Saul, 1969