Saul Bellow Analysis

Start Your Free Trial

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Download Saul Bellow Study Guide

Subscribe Now

What qualities characterize the typical Bellovian hero?

What qualities characterize the Bellovian antagonist or villain?

Discuss the role of the thinker in Saul Bellow’s novels.

Discuss the treatment of the “loser” or the “failure” in Bellow’s novels.

What is Bellow’s attitude toward modern culture?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Saul Bellow is known primarily for his novels, which include The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970), and Ravelstein (2000). He also published plays, a book of nonfiction prose about a trip to Jerusalem, and a number of essays.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Few would deny Saul Bellow’s place in contemporary American literature. Any assessment of his contributions would have to account for his realistic yet inventive style, the rich Jewish heritage upon which he draws, the centrality of Chicago in his fictional world, the role of the intellectual, and a fundamental wit, rare in contemporary American fiction. In 1976, Bellow’s achievement was internationally recognized when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature. He also won the 1988 National Medal of Arts and four National Book Awards—for The Adventures of Augie March in 1954, for Herzog in 1965, for Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) in 1971, and for The Bellarosa Connection (1989) in 1990. In 1997, The Actual (1997) won the National Jewish Book Award, given by the Jewish Book Council.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his many novels, Saul Bellow published short stories, plays, and a variety of nonfiction. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Commentary, Partisan Review, Hudson Review, Esquire, and other periodicals, and his collections of short stories include Mosby’s Memoirs, and Other Stories (1968) and Him with His Foot in His Mouth, and Other Stories (1984). His full-length play The Last Analysis was produced for a short run on Broadway in 1964, and three one-act plays, Orange Soufflé, A Wen, and Out from Under, were staged in 1966 in the United States and Europe. Another one-act play, The Wrecker, was published, though not staged, in 1954. Throughout his career, Bellow wrote numerous articles on a variety of topics. In 1976, he published an account of his trip to Israel, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Often described as one of America’s most important novelists, Saul Bellow earned enormous critical praise and a wide readership as well. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. His popularity is, perhaps, surprising, because his novels do not contain the usual ingredients one expects to find in best-selling fiction—suspense, heroic figures, and graphic sex and violence. In fact, his novels are difficult ones that wrestle with perplexing questions, sometimes drawing from esoteric sources such as the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner and the psychology of Wilhelm Reich. One of America’s most erudite novelists, Bellow often alluded to the work of philosophers, psychologists, poets, anthropologists, and other writers in his fiction. He once stated that modern novelists should not be afraid to introduce complex ideas into their work. He found nothing admirable about the anti-intellectualism of many modern writers and believed that most of them failed to confront the important moral and philosophical problems of the modern age. Opposed to the glib pessimism and the “complaint” of the dominant tradition of modern literature, Bellow struggled for affirmation at a time when many writers viewed such a possibility as merely an object of ridicule.

In contrast to many other American writers, who produced their best work when they were young and then wrote mediocre or poor fiction as they grew older, Bellow is known for the consistent high quality of his work. Moreover, his fiction reveals an immense versatility. In his work, one finds highly structured Flaubertian form as well as picaresquenarrative, naturalistic realism as well as romance.

Bellow earned a reputation as a master of narrative voice and perspective, a great comic writer (perhaps the best in...

(The entire section is 1,536 words.)