Topics for Further Study
Saul Bellow set a lot of his fiction in the city of Chicago, where he himself grew up. Research the history of this vibrant city, focusing on arts, literature, music, or drama and write a paper on what you learn.
Charlie takes his daughters to see a performance of “Rip Van Winkle,” adapted from the short story by Washington Irving, which was first published in 1819. Read this story and write an essay about why “Rip Van Winkle” is significant within the novel Humboldt’s Gift.
Write a short story about Charlie Citrine that takes place after the end of Humboldt’s Gift. Is he happier? Does he ever find someone to love again? Does his gift from Humboldt continue to affect his life? Is he still writing or is he doing something completely different?
The Mafia, through Rinaldo Cantabile, plays an important role in Bellow’s novel. What presence does the Mafia have in contemporary culture (in the news, entertainment, politics, business, etc.)? Does the Mafia contribute to society or do it harm? Defend your position in a poem.
Humboldt’s Gift is a semi-autobiographical novel. Not only is Humboldt based on Delmore Schwartz, but Charlie is based on Bellow himself. How many correlations between the novel’s plot and Bellow’s real life can you find? Work together as a class to come up with a list.
Read a short story by Delmore Schwartz. Did you like the story? Does his writing style evoke the character of Humboldt? In what way? Write a one-page response to the story that you read, connecting it to Bellow’s novel.
In Humboldt’s Gift, Charlie and Thaxter want to start a journal of literature and ideas named The Ark. It fails to get going in part because of the expenses involved with printing. With the explosive popularity of the Internet in the 1990s, online literary journals became more prevalent. Find a literary journal that is exclusively online or has web-only content. Read through the current issue and then write a review about what makes this journal unique, what you liked and did not like, and why.
Write a poem inspired by the novel—its characters, events, or themes. For extra credit, write it in an avant-garde style, like Humboldt composed his poems.