What is the moral lesson in Saul Bellow's Herzog?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Saul Bellow’s Herzog is not a didactic novel that teaches a direct moral lesson. The protagonist, Herzog, is a literary critic struggling to finish a second book while his marriage disintegrates. Both he and his wife have had other lovers. He suffers from anxiety over both his failure to continue his scholarly work and his romantic failures and uncertainties. He turns to the great moral and philosophical systems of the world for guidance, but does not find solace in them. Essentially, he wants to make moral judgements, but cannot establish a foundational morality from which to do so. There is some sense that he may end up located in Existentialism at the end of the book, and that is partially proffered as a solution to the moral drift of the novel, but only ambivalently. Perhaps the only unambivalent moral lesson in the book is that self-deception contributes to moral flaws.

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