Critics generally recognize Herzog as a masterpiece and call it one of the most significant works by Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. The novel’s narrative, which switches from limited third person to first person, affords insights into the intellectual mind of Moses Herzog as he works his way through a very disturbed period. Toward the end of the novel, at his home in the country, Herzog starts to regain his composure. He experiences joy for the first time when he communes with nature and finally prepares to stop writing letters. A summary of the plot cannot, however, give a comprehensive impression of the novel’s shifts from past to present, which depict Herzog’s tortured attempts to explain the world and control his life rationally. In the process, he ends up seeing a world in fragments and feeling that his life is disintegrating. Nor can a summary do justice to Bellow’s depiction of Herzog’s capacity for love, his naïve innocence, and the pain he suffers.
The novel captures the texture of the places where Herzog lives. Bellow uses concrete details to create the hectic, indeed frantic life that Herzog lives in New York City and Chicago, as well as the peace he finds in Ludeyville. Like Herzog, the reader becomes immersed in the different sights, sounds, and smells.
Bellow allows the reader inside Herzog’s mind, a mind in chaos and near collapse. The first words of the novel, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog,” are echoed again toward the novel’s end. Herzog first thinks these words after most of the adventures in the book are past, that is, after he has returned to Ludeyville...
(The entire section is 696 words.)