Study Guide

Seize the Day

by Saul Bellow

Seize the Day Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tommy Wilhelm descends from the twenty-third floor of the Gloriana Hotel and enters the lobby in search of his father. At the reception desk he collects the mail, buys a newspaper, and is told that his father, Dr. Adler, is already in the dining room having breakfast. Tommy braces himself to meet his father; a host of recollections bursting upon him. He is painfully aware of his father’s contempt for him. The old man—now in his seventies—considers Tommy a failure.

In his middle forties, his marriage on the rocks, Tommy does not consider himself a failure, although his personal life is in shambles. Besides walking out on his wife, he lost his job at Rojax, is running into debt, and is learning about alimony payments. Tommy understands, vaguely, that part of his problem is that he is a dreamer, a man who trusts too many people and who has too little common sense.

He remembers his first failure, that of trying to be an actor in Hollywood. He trusted a so-called talent scout named Maurice Valence. He dropped out of college and went off to California on Valence’s prompting. Tommy should have known that Valence was too anxious to assert his legitimacy, and that, far from having a connection with the film business, he was just a fast-talking con artist who organized a ring of call girls. This first failure—one of many Tommy is to endure over the years—was the beginning of his father’s low opinion of him.

His father, Dr. Adler, is having breakfast with a man named Perls, and Tommy suspects that the old man is trying to avoid him or to avoid being alone with him. Adler introduces Tommy to Perls and the conversation eventually centers on Tommy. His father is bragging about Tommy being an important man at Rojax, and Tommy suddenly realizes that his father is trying to promote himself as a father rather than praise Tommy as a son. Tommy is aggrieved as he hears himself reviewing his life story to this stranger. He is especially sensitive to Perls’s and Adler’s suspicions about Tommy’s association with Dr. Tamkin. Tamkin, they declare, is either crazy or a crook, and Tommy is foolish for even talking to him, much less trusting the fellow. Tommy defends Tamkin, but in his heart he fears he has blundered in giving Tamkin power of attorney over his funds.

Laughing...

(The entire section is 945 words.)

Seize the Day Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Set in the Gloriana Hotel on Broadway during one morning and in the commodities exchange on Wall Street later in the day, Seize the Day begins with its suffering hero, Tommy Wilhelm, seeking the company of his father, Dr. Adler. Dr. Adler does not love his son and views him as a failure and a dreamer. Adler disdains his son’s misery: Tommy’s marriage has failed, and his career at Rojax Corporation has floundered. In seeking out his father, Tommy does not so much want financial help, though he needs it and even expects it. What he really seeks is his father’s approval and love. At the very least, he seeks understanding from the old man, a compassion that Tommy has not found from anyone—especially his wife, who is stonily demanding further alimony. Adler is pitiless, disdainful, and sententious, One of Bellow’s most consummately realized villains, he is a soulless creature who is himself ironically effete, living in tight-fisted retirement in a second-rate hotel.

Broke and desperate, Tommy turns to another father figure, a wily, fast-talking con man, Dr. Tamkin. Tamkin wearies Tommy with his incessant talk, an overwhelming mixture of Emersonian bromides on self-reliance and psychoanalytic jargon about money as a type of aggression. He convinces Tommy to invest the last of his money on the commodities market—ironically, in futures.

Tommy’s inevitable failure is depicted in a brilliant scene in which he anxiously watches the...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Seize the Day Summary

Chapter 1
Saul Bellow's Seize the Day is the story of one day in the life of Wilhelm Adler, a.k.a. Tommy Wilhelm, a man...

(The entire section is 1108 words.)