(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Download Herzog Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Herzog is going through a difficult time. While living in New York City, in June, he spends most of his time writing letters. Sometimes he writes them on paper, sometimes only in his mind. He writes to people he knows, people he has never met, and people who died long before he was born. He writes to Dwight David Eisenhower, thirty-fourth president of the United States; Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who died in 1900; his dead mother; some of his intellectual rivals; even God. In the letters, he argues about intellectual things the people said or wrote; sometimes he argues about things he himself said or wrote, or failed to say or to write.

When his girlfriend, Ramona, tells him he should rest at her place on the shore, he instead leaves New York by train to visit a friend on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. While traveling, he continues writing letters. At Martha’s Vineyard, he goes to the room his hosts had prepared for him. Then, leaving a letter explaining his actions, he immediately sneaks out of the house and returns by air to New York. Back in his apartment, he starts writing letters again.

During most of the next day, he writes letters. He goes to dinner at Ramona’s apartment, where he spends the night. The next morning, he calls his lawyer, Harvey Simkin, to discuss the possibility of getting custody of his daughter, June; he hears that Madeleine, his former wife, and Valentine Gersbach, her lover, locked June in a car when they wanted to talk. Simkin has to go to court that morning but agrees to leave a message at the courthouse for Herzog. While waiting for Simkin’s message, Herzog attends several trials, including one involving an unmarried couple accused of beating the woman’s son to death. Herzog leaves the courtroom and later that day flies to Chicago. There, he goes to his father’s old house, now inhabited by his aging stepmother, and gets a pistol his father owned. It has two bullets in it. Herzog intends to use one on Madeleine and the other on Gersbach. By now it is dark. He goes to the house where he, Madeleine, and June had lived. Through the kitchen window, he sees Madeleine doing the dishes. Walking around the house, he looks through the bathroom window and sees Gersbach giving June a bath. Gersbach bathes June with obvious love, and June enjoys being bathed. The sight makes Herzog realize that he cannot kill anyone.

Herzog drives to the house of Phoebe and Valentine Gersbach. Phoebe will not admit that Gersbach and Madeleine are having an affair, and Herzog is unsuccessful when he asks her to help him get custody of June. He leaves and spends the night with his old friend Lucas Asphalter, who has recently been in the newspapers for giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to his tubercular pet monkey. The monkey dies anyway. Asphalter arranges for Herzog to see June the next day.

The next afternoon, he is driving with June in his rented car when a truck collides with them. June is not hurt, but Herzog is knocked unconscious. The policemen who investigate recognize that Herzog was not at fault in the accident, but they arrest him for possessing a loaded revolver. He and June are taken to the police station. When Madeleine comes to get June, she makes it clear that she hates Herzog.

Herzog’s brother, William, pays his bail and agreed to visit Herzog’s house in Ludeyville, Massachusetts. Herzog used money he inherited from his father to buy the house as a home for Madeleine, who at that time wanted to live in the country. Herzog spent his entire inheritance buying the house and improving it. He loved living there and working on it, but when Madeleine tired of the country they moved to Chicago. The house has been deserted a long time.

Herzog goes from Chicago to “his country place.” Mice run through the house, and birds roost in the rooms. Lovers use it as a meeting place. Nevertheless, Herzog feels “joy” and peace in Ludeyville for the first time in a long time. There, he begins “his final...

(The entire section is 1,477 words.)