Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A central theme in this complex, revealing story involves the conflict between the intellect and the emotions or passions. Mosby, a fanatic about ideas, is all intellect. As a result, he is unattractive, as his ideas about Nazi Germany show. Saul Bellow describes him as pondering with hate the mistakes of political and military leaders and being intolerant in his conversations. He is “stone-hearted Mosby, making fun of flesh and blood, of these little humanities with their short inventories of bad and good.” The narrative style leads the reader to believe that these really may be Mosby’s opinions of himself. Mosby realizes that he should feel compassion for Lustgarten, in whom Mosby sees no harm, but he feels none. Mosby also abhors unmasked emotion. In contrast, Lustgarten is a man of emotions. The first syllable of his name indicates passion. Although Lustgarten fails so spectacularly, he is ultimately a much more attractive figure than Mosby. When he calls Lustgarten “Jewish-Daddy-Lustgarten,” Mosby seems to see even Lustgarten’s Jewishness as ridiculous.

“Mosby’s Memoirs” also contrasts Mosby with nature and the ruins at Mitla. Bellow characterizes nature in terms of an aggressive vitality. When Mosby goes to Tula, he looks at the Tule tree, which Bellow describes as being older than the religion represented by the church in the yard in which the tree stands. According to Mexican guidebooks, the tree is one of the largest and oldest...

(The entire section is 441 words.)