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As a real fan of this novel, I feel there are many points where the narrative rises to an emotional and intellectual pitch that is difficult not to connect with. In my reading, this is a novel about modern conflicts of and in the individual.
In particular, Humbolt's Gift explores the thematic idea that mankind, as "the individual" needs to be saved, redeemed, and re-instilled with meaning. Charlie is an intellectual who acts on the assumption - compulsively - that his intellect will provide the means for his own salvation. Yet, it is Renata, not his considerable and penetrative intellectual abilities, that offers the most real opportunity for claiming a stable and satisfying meaning to Charlie's life.
These ideas are expressed in many places in the text and find particularly acute articulation when Charlie meets Renata for the first time and when he defends his magazine to her.
"I wondered at first whether she might not be feigning timidity out of courtesy to a man of an older generation, but a cold gin moisture came out on her beautiful face and she appeared to be appealing to me to do something." (p211)
In this passage, Charlie goes on to describe his feeling of sympathy for Renata and his surprise at finding himself uttering "My Fate!" as he gets up to approach the bartender for a key to a hotel room. In this passage we see Charlie's intellect challenged to relinquish its hold over Charlie's passions.
Later, Charlie expounds on one of the themes that animates much of Bellow's work - the notion of the spiritual needs of the modern/post-modern individual.
"The greatest things, the things most necessary for life, have recoiled and retreated. People are actually dying of this, losing all personal life, and the inner being of millions, many millions, is missing. ...Mankind must recover its imaginative powers, recover living thought and real being and no longer accept these insults to the soul, and do it soon." (p250)
In these sections of the novel, Charlie's passions and the conflicts that arouse them are clearly drawn and, in turn, they draw the reader into the flow of the story.
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