In Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, is the character of Henderson an intellectual who faces a crisis?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henderson the Rain King is a 1959 novel by Saul Bellow, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (recommended by the committee) and Bellow's most popular work. It is a comic novel about a rich man -- Henderson -- who travels to Africa in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Henderson is, by his own description, no sort of intellectual:

...I thought myself a bum and had my reasons, the main reason being that I behaved like a bum... I am a graduate of an Ivy League university... [but] if I hadn't been a Henderson and my father's son, they would have thrown me out.
(Bellow, Henderson the Rain King... Google Books)

Henderson is a huge man, heir to millions of dollars, but with no real purpose. He is a hard worker, but not an intellectual; he mentions reading a quote in one of his father's books, but then forgets which book it was. His personal issues and bursts of anger cause him to drink to excess and verbally abuse his wives; he finally travels to Africa to try and do something significant.

The crisis is largely of his own making; he has made a hash of his personal life and relationships, so he flees, and does not actually face the crisis. After that, he creates crises for himself in Africa, failing to solve a plague of frogs and accidentally becoming the "Rain King" of a tribe by moving a statue. He befriends their ruler, who is then killed by a lion, and he flees from the responsibility of leadership. In the end, while Henderson grows to understand his own life better, he never truly faces his crises, instead constantly running from them.

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Henderson the Rain King

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