Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Chicago

*Chicago. Midwestern city where Charlie grew up and still lives. Chicago is also the home of his mistress, Renata, and his ex-wife, who calls Chicago a deadly, ugly, vulgar, and dangerous place. In American culture, Chicago is indelibly associated with gangsters, and Charlie has adventures involving a gangster, Rinaldo Cantabile, who has Charlie’s beautiful Mercedes bashed repeatedly with a baseball bat and who takes Charlie up to a girder high on an unfinished skyscraper, where he throws down money Charlie lost to him in a poker game. To escape from Chicago and all the problems it represents to Charlie, he plans to fly directly to Europe with Renata but decides to stop at New York first to find out about a legacy he has been left by his late friend, Von Humboldt Fleisher.

*New York City

*New York City. Largest city in the United States, a place of great poverty and great wealth. When Charlie visits New York, he stays in the plush Plaza Hotel and enjoys all the luxuries money can buy. He and Renata visit an old-age home on Coney Island, where Humboldt’s uncle Waldemar lives. There Charlie gets the legacy Humboldt has left him, in a sealed package.

The last time Charlie sees Humboldt alive occurs while he is on a business trip to New York City. There, in the company of the state’s two current U.S. senators, Jacob Javits and Robert Kennedy, he flies over the city in a Coast Guard helicopter...

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Humboldt's Gift Historical Context

Feminism
Feminism is a political and social theory that argues for equality of men and women with an understanding...

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Humboldt's Gift Literary Style

Point of View
Humboldt’s Gift is told in first-person point of view, which means the reader sees the events of...

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Humboldt's Gift Literary Techniques

Bellow said that he put the best of himself into Humboldt's Gift. It does seem to combine the best features of his earlier fictions....

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Humboldt's Gift Compare and Contrast

  • 1970s: Divorce rates are on the rise world-wide with approximately 50 percent of marriages in the United States...

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Humboldt's Gift Topics for Further Study

Saul Bellow set a lot of his fiction in the city of Chicago, where he himself grew up. Research the history of this vibrant city, focusing on...

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Humboldt's Gift Literary Precedents

As Philip Toynbee has pointed out, Humboldt's Gift is probably America's nearest approach to those great Russian masterpieces, The...

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Humboldt's Gift Media Adaptations

Humboldt’s Gift was adapted as an unabridged audio book in 1992 by Blackstone Audiobooks. It is read by Christopher Hurt. As of...

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Humboldt's Gift What Do I Read Next?

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, published in 1938, is Delmore Schwartz’s seminal book of short stories and poetry.

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Humboldt's Gift Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bellow, Saul, Humboldt’s Gift, Penguin Books, 1996.

Broyard, Anatole, “Books of the...

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Humboldt's Gift Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Chavkin, Allan. “Humboldt’s Gift and the Romantic Imagination.” Philological Quarterly 62 (1983): 1-19. Discusses the novel as reflecting Bellow’s “essential romantic humanism” and interprets the flower symbolism at the end as “the possibility of spiritual rebirth.”

Dutton, Robert R. Saul Bellow. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Includes a detailed discussion of Humboldt’s Gift and concludes that Charlie needed to break with Cantabile, Denise, and Renata to achieve peace.

Newman, Judie. “Bellow’s ‘Indian Givers’: Humboldt’s Gift.” Journal of American Studies 15...

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