Humboldt's Gift Questions and Answers
by Saul Bellow

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Is there any symbolic significance at the end of Humboldt's Gift regarding the flower growing next to Humboldt's grave? It is a crocus. Do you think that is a sly pun (croak/crocus/ we all "croak" in the end)?

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When asked about the flowers around Humboldt's grave, Charlie Citrine replies that he doesn't know: "I'm a city boy myself. They must be crocuses."

The crocus is generally regarded as a symbol of youth, rebirth, and cheerfulness. The Ancient Greeks wove them into wedding garlands. On the other hand, such a pun as crocus/we all croak is entirely characteristic of Saul Bellow, who, in Ravelstein, turned the exclusive British shirt-makers Turnbull & Asser into "Kisser & Asser." In The Adventures of Augie March, the protagonist "marches augustly" through life. His wife, Stella, longs to be a star.

Bellow greatly admired James Joyce and was influenced by his penchant for obscure puns and wordplay. However, Joyce also intentionally left his work as open to interpretation as possible. He wanted scholars to fight over what he meant for centuries. Bellow seems to have had a similar attitude. The crocus can mean youth and rebirth. It can mean that we all croak. To pronounce the last word and settle the matter is neither possible nor desirable.

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