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In Saul Bellow's novella, Seize the Day, Wilhelm is a character in the midst of great struggle. Going through a mid-life crisis, he finds problems converging from all sides. These difficulties affect him physically as well as mentally and emotionally:
I just can't catch my breath...
This sense of "constriction" is created by Wilhelm's inability to get on his feet in any way: his floundering existence overwhelms him on every front.
One element of Wilhelm's character is seen with his struggles to interact in a positive way with others. One example is his relationship with his father, Dr. Adler. Both live under the same roof at the Gloriana Hotel, and Wilhelm and his father do not get along. Wilhelm's father sees his son as a failure—his life the result of many poor choices he has made. Wilhelm resents his father's overall censorship and unwillingness to support his son, even emotionally. Dr. Adler tells Wilhelm he would rather see his son dead than a burden to him. Wilhelm also struggles with his wife, who he does not live with (who blames the failed marriage on him)—she will not give him a divorce. This causes him a great deal of pain as he greatly misses his sons. He is also "estranged" from his mistress, Olive, and his sister, further indicating how Wilhelm struggles with making positive connections with other people.
Wilhelm's character also reflects his lack of financial competence: he is unable to provide for himself first because he is unemployed. He has also made some financial investments that have not been successful. His financial difficulties make him feel insecure and self-conscious. When he asks his father for help, though he is not referring to economic assistance, "money" is all his father "hears" when Wilhelm turns to him out of need.
Wilhelm appears to have given up on himself. His takes no care with his appearance. He is unkempt in his dress. He is overweight, but this does not necessitate that he not be neat and clean in how he presents himself. This is undoubtedly another result of his poor self-esteem.
Wilhelm is also a poor judge of character, perhaps even naive about others. When he followed his talent scout, Maurice Venice to Hollywood twenty-five years before, even when Venice told him that he couldn't really help Tommy (Wilhelm), Wilhelm did not listen, but stayed there for seven years, never realizing any success in attempting to become an actor. This happens again with Dr. Tamkin. Supposedly a psychologist, Tamkin is really a conman, and he bilks Wilhelm out of his last bit of cash (seven hundred dollars), all the while promising financial success to a struggling Wilhelm. Wilhelm's poor self-esteem and desire to get back on his feet financially make him an easy target. Tamkin is especially predatory in knowing exactly what insecurities of Wilhelm's he needs to play to, to get Wilhelm to "stay in the game." Wilhelm is not a rational man: he is much too emotionally based to survive in a world with people like his father and Tamkin.
At the novel's end, Wilhelm somehow finds himself at a stranger's funeral, and is overcome with grief—perhaps for the passing of a fellow-human being, but also certainly by a sense of complete and utter failure that may make him feel he is not that much different than the dead man.
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