Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although creditable as a short story in its own right, Saul Bellow’s “A Father-to-Be” can be appreciated also as a kind of working draft for his short novel, Seize the Day, which was published in 1956. In that work, Tommy Wilhelm, the protagonist, feels overwhelmed by his financial and emotional debts to his estranged wife and to his father, whom he both loves and despises for his mean-spiritedness. Rogin, like Tommy, feels burdened by what he believes are his obligations to support Joan and his conflicting desire for freedom as a man.

The character of Rogin most engages the reader, for the plot is really a series of contemplative actions that shed light on his personality. His name—related to the Latin rogo, to ask—suggests an essential element of his nature, that of the questioner, the seeker. As in many of Bellow’s works, much of the action and meaning of the plot depends on a character’s attempt to interpret, to seek, to plumb the bottom of the well of experience.

What Rogin seeks is at the crux of the meaning of “A Father-to-Be.” He is a research chemist by profession, one who seeks answers in the elemental substances of nature; but he is a researcher into the human heart by inclination, seeking to find sympathy and understanding as a man in a tough, desensitized world. His adventures on his way to Joan’s apartment form steps in his contemplation of his own place in that world. The journey Rogin makes is one of discovery about himself.

In his first step—the delicatessen—Rogin sees himself as the harried provider, a financial supporter of Joan’s extravagant lifestyle. He also...

(The entire section is 679 words.)