Bellow’s third work is not only a picturesque novel of great zest but also a kind of Bildungsroman, an autobiographical record of physical experience as it relates to intellectual and emotional growth. Augie’s own exuberant narration of his life, beginning in Chicago during the Great Depression, reveals a personality who is in some ways a reckless and amoral character reminiscent of the rogue-heroes of the Spanish picaresque novel of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet he is also a man who must define himself by his relationship to others and who views the world at large as basically sound. Many critics have likened the book, and Augie in particular, to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and certainly Augie’s status as folk hero, his take-the-world-as-it-is attitude, and his earthy narrative “talk” are very much influenced by Mark Twain’s classic American novel.
Yet Augie is deeper than Huck because he is less naïve and, because of his origins, more cynical. He is not easily drawn into others’ sphere of influence, as, by contrast, Huck was credulously drawn to the Duke and the King. Augie’s adventures—his various jobs as stock boy, coal salesman, petty thief, prize-fight manager, union organizer, and even eagle trainer—are attempts to taste all of life. Augie is the embodiment of nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman’s belief in the value of all people and professions. All labor is valuable in...
(The entire section is 570 words.)