Is Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day" an American novel? Why? What does the title of the novel tell you about the American strategy of success in life?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is much in Bellow's work that represents what it means to be America.  The title of "seizing the day" is a very American concept, as part of the supposed American dream is this idea of taking ownership of opportunity and acting within the moment to make one's dreams a reality.  Yet, the interesting aspect about Bellow's take on the American dream is his examination of its failure.  When we envision the American Dream, the images conjured up are those of success:  Self made, self initiated paragons of success, skill, and a bit of luck. For every one of these visions, there has to be at least ten others that failed and these stories lack publicity.  Bellow's work seems to be devoted to these stories in Tommy Wilhelm.  His "seizing the day" moments, where he sought to live out his dream, have resulted in successive failures.  His desire to go to Hollywood to become an actor, his commitment to it for years, his dream of playing the market, even his dream of being with another woman outside of his wife have all resulted in futility.  Each separate action is an integral part of American conceptions of success and happiness, actions that require a person on some level to "seize the day."  Yet, where Bellow's work is uniquely American is to examine the failure in striving for the American dream.  When one envisions "seizing the day," the image is not a mid life crisis waiting to happen, yet that is the result in Bellow's work.  Perhaps the only time where we see Tommy embody the creed of "seizing the day" in an effective manner is at the end of the work when we weeps openly at the funeral for he is not weeping at the corpse in front of him, but rather at his own attempts at the American dream.  In this moment, Tommy has taken the moment and owned it.  The American strategy success for life of instant fame and wealth, unparallelled success fueled by endless optimism is called into question when Tommy weeps for his own American dreams.

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