Saul Bellow American Literature Analysis
What sets Bellow’s novels apart from those of his major contemporaries, such as Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and Norman Mailer, is primarily the treatment of the hero. The critical consensus is overwhelming in its assessment of the Bellow protagonist as a sensitive, thinking being who contends with the soul-destructive forces of modern society. Though often a victim and a spiritual alien in a materialistic world, Bellow’s protagonist is nevertheless capable of dignity, sympathy, and compassion.
In his critical essays as well, Bellow calls for a more positive vision of humans as glorious sufferers wounded by their own aspirations and ideals in a world that has lost its belief in both. Bellow’s vision of humankind’s conflict with the world is not presented as a journey into chaos, as such a conflict is often portrayed in contemporary works. Unlike his contemporaries, Bellow does not locate his hero in a world where meaning and purpose are nonexistent or, at best, random. In Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) or Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy (1966), for example—or even in the works of the South American Magical Realists such as Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges—reality is a virtual factoid, a fabulous construction, an existential hall of mirrors against which the hero or antihero bumps his psyche.
By contrast, Bellow’s world has substance. The settings of his novels—New York, Chicago, or even the...
(The entire section is 5593 words.)
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