What are the themes in Looking for Mr. Green by Saul Bellow?

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The story "Looking for Mr. Green" by Saul Bellow is the tale of a down-on-his-luck man trying to make his way during the Great Depression with any job he can find, and currently, that means handing out relief checks to people on disability. Most importantly, George Grebe is...

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The story "Looking for Mr. Green" by Saul Bellow is the tale of a down-on-his-luck man trying to make his way during the Great Depression with any job he can find, and currently, that means handing out relief checks to people on disability. Most importantly, George Grebe is trying to find Mr. Tulliver Green, who is proving extremely difficult to track down in spite of Grebe checking his apartment building, his grocer, and other places. Here are a few themes in the work.

The Search for Identity

First is the search for identity. In Grebe's search for Mr. Green, it becomes apparent that it transitions quickly into a metaphor for Grebe's own identity. He is a man displaced—despite being well-educated and full of life, he is reduced to handing out checks to try and earn enough money to scrape by. While Grebe is looking for the elusive Mr. Green, he explores himself philosophically and comes to a deeper understanding of his own purpose and passion.

The Search for Success

The search for success and prosperity is an other prevalent theme. Grebe, Mr. Field, Mr. Raynor, and Mrs. Straika are all shown attempting to conjure up money out of thin air, as it were. Each individual pursues different avenues to make money, and it is difficult but necessary in the lean times of the Great Depression. Throughout it all, Grebe is attempting to literally give money away to Mr. Green, who, unlike the other characters, is eluding the attempts to hand him federal relief money. Grebe is chasing him down to give him that which Grebe himself wants to most, money and stability.

Working to the Best of Your Ability

The final theme is doing everything to the best of your ability. One of the final lines in the book is a quote from the Bible, stating "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." This illustrates the idea of doing whatever you do to the very best of your ability. George Grebe is an intellectual and may well think that his job is beneath his ability. In most cases, he would give up and stop pursuing Mr. Green, but he persists, almost out of an existential need to find this man. In doing so, he perseveres and applies himself to this work in a way that he never had before, putting his full might behind it, and he improves (we assume) Mr. Green's life, as well as his own, by doing so.

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