Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Mr. Sammler’s Planet explores the typical Bellovian conflict of accepting the world on its own terms while recognizing and adhering to higher spiritual values. The “planet” of Mr. Sammler is not the moon—a plan for the colonization of which has been proposed by his scientist friend—but the very earth itself. Moreover, Mr. Sammler, an aged, one-eyed Polish Jew now living in New York with his daughter, is not an astronomer by profession but by a philosophical state of mind. With his one good eye he peers through the telescope of history, exploring the cultural landscape of a planet which has just sent a man to the moon yet which is rife with social and political cant and a spiritual emptiness. Having escaped death in a concentration camp during World War II, Sammler is disillusioned, even horrified by the violence around him. The novel presents a dreary, hellish picture of New York of the late 1960’s. Surrounded by muggers, pickpockets, and an assortment of hollow intellectuals, Sammler is convinced that the world has gone mad, that the human race has deteriorated into barbarism.
An indictment of the radicalism of the era, the novel is Bellow’s bleakest, and Mr. Sammler his most despairing hero, a survivor of the Nazis who finds an almost cosmic indifference in the prevailing violence and decay. For Mr. Sammler, New York City is representative of the demise of culture, of humanism.
In the course of his three-day adventure...
(The entire section is 384 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Artur Sammler is a highly introspective, brilliant, and aging Holocaust survivor living in New York City. Loved by those who know him, he functions as their gentle, infinitely likable father-confessor. However, since his experience of crawling out of a mass grave in Poland he is “dry” inside. His “death” and “rebirth” in a Holocaust killing field leaves him with an eye that can distinguish only light and shade and a spirit that is often myopic and incapacitated. He is slightly confused, bitter, morally indignant, and constantly ready to sit in judgment upon others. He rarely ever expresses these feelings because he nevertheless loves and needs his circle of friends.
In spite of attempts to insulate himself from the modern world that he reluctantly was born into during the Holocaust, Sammler’s life on his planet is presenting him with many problems. His customary existence is upset because of the imminent death of Elya Gruner, the man who saved Sammler and his daughter from Holocaust Poland and who supported them in America. Furthermore, he is also involved with the intrigue of spying on an African American pickpocket, and the problem of his daughter, who steals the only copy of an important manuscript.
Sammler was spying for days on an African American male who pickpockets the riders of the bus he rides. He is fascinated by this man’s grace, his stylish dress, and most of all his audacity in always picking the same bus route...
(The entire section is 1111 words.)