It's perfectly understandable that even a good reader might find it difficult to make sense of Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet . Bellow is a notably erudite writer—that is to say, someone of great learning and knowledge. And here as elsewhere in his work, he displays his erudition in...
It's perfectly understandable that even a good reader might find it difficult to make sense of Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet. Bellow is a notably erudite writer—that is to say, someone of great learning and knowledge. And here as elsewhere in his work, he displays his erudition in suitably learned prose that many of his readers often find more than a little intimidating.
That doesn't mean to say that Bellow is deliberately cultivating obscurity in his writing; it's simply that he tends to assume a certain level of education on the part of his readers. In that sense, Bellow doesn't come down to his readers or even try to meet them halfway; he expects them to make the effort to understand what he's saying.
Mr. Sammler's Planet is perhaps the most obvious example in Bellow's extensive literary output of such an uncompromising approach. In this novel, Bellow is communicating with those, like himself, who are both appalled and frightened by the bewildering cultural changes then taking place in the United States and the Western world in general.
Having survived the Holocaust, the title character is struggling with life in the urban jungle of 1960s New York, with its rampant crime, disorder, and political radicalism. For Mr. Sammler, as for his creator, all the old values have been turned upside down in the pursuit of a permissive society where previously unacceptable modes of behavior and lifestyle choices have now become the norm.
Sammler the intellectual tries to make sense of it all, and does so partly by invoking the great thinkers of the Western tradition, who are name checked quite often throughout the text. It is perhaps cultural references like these that confuse many readers, who may not be familiar with these names. The uninitiated, learned references to the likes of Hegel, Heidegger, and Sartre can seem pretty intimidating, to say the least.
As an unashamed advocate of what he sees as the superiority of Western civilization, Bellow puts a lot of himself into the character of Mr. Sammler. That being the case, it's perhaps inevitable that, when we read Mr. Sammler's Planet, we are going to gain, whether we like it or not, an insight into the contents of the writer's mind, with its comprehensive knowledge of philosophy and history. To some, this can be something of a treat. To others, it can be quite overwhelming, and not in a good way.