Humboldt's Gift Questions and Answers
by Saul Bellow

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Will you cite key quotes in the book that relate to the themes in Humboldt's Gift?

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While this story takes on everything from spirituality to the relationship between sanity and creativity, its strongest theme relates to capitalistic America where material wealth receives high priority.  Success is determined by wealth because wealth controls the social structure.  In other societies, social structure is often determined by education, birth-right, occupation, etc..  Most Western cultures use money as a power base.

This theme follows Charlie as his reputation evaporates with his money; it follows Denise as she becomes obsessed with 'keeping up' with her fancy friends; it follows Renata's pursuit of monetary success through marriage.  What happens to all of the characters is that they lose themselves in the race that is the American Dream.  Their hearts - symbolized through the protagonist's creative spirit - are trampled under by the crusade for materialism.  The following quotes illustrate this: 

"The country is proud of its dead poets. It takes terrific satisfaction in the poets' testimony that the USA is too tough, too big, too much, too rugged, that American reality is overpowering.…So poets are loved, but loved because they just can't make it here."

"The weakness of the spiritual powers is proved
in the childishness, madness, drunkenness, and despair
of these martyrs.…They succumbed, poor loonies.


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