Critical Overview

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When Seize the Day was published in 1956, critics praised the novella and maintained that it followed in a natural progression from Bellow's first three novels, Dangling Man (1944), The Victim (1947), and The Adventures of Augie March (1954). In his 1957 Chicago Review assessment of Seize the Day, Robert Baker wrote that Bellow in all of his novels "has tried to lasso the universe, to explore the splendid, profligate diversity of human experience, and to seek the ties that bind." Baker found that in Seize the Day, Bellow had matured as an artist: "The growth and ripening of Bellow's attitudes have been paralleled by the perfecting of his medium of expression."

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Baker alluded in his review to the three short stories that accompany Seize the Day in the volume entitled Seize the Day, but he claimed that "these stories do not match the brilliance of 'Seize the Day,' and so the less said about them the better." Baker suggested that Bellow's writing does contain flaws, particularly that he fails to "deal convincingly with women" and that "his books don't end, they just stop." However, he called Bellow "perhaps the major talent of the past decade."

Irving Malin joined Baker in his praise of Seize the Day. In Malin's 1969 book Saul Bellow's Fiction, Malin called Seize the Day a "blest nouvelle," or blessed novel. He asserted in his book, a study of Bellow's fiction through Herzog (1964), that Seize the Day was "Bellow's greatest achievement." Harry T. Moore, in his preface to Malin's book, called Seize the Day and The Victim "two of the finest novels to come out of America since World War II." Malin's assessment of Bellow in general was that he was "probably the most important living American novelist"; Malin's judgment was based on his belief that Bellow's work was "mature, human, [and] imaginative."

Robert R. Dutton in his book Saul Bellow (1971) discussed Seize the Day mainly in terms of the theme of the novel's sources, the father-son relationship between Tommy Wilhelm and Dr. Adler, Dr. Tamkin as a "Contemporary Witch-doctor," and the novel's water and drowning imagery. Although Dutton acknowledged that it is difficult for critics to make "definitive judgments" about contemporary American literature, he admitted that "Bellow's novels represent the contemporary American novel at its best," adding that this judgment came not only from literary critics but also from more popular sources such as newspaper book reviews and weekly news magazines. In attempting to make a distinction between Bellow and his fellow American novelists, Dutton asserted that "In each of [Bellow's] novels he finds the human spirit to be quietly triumphant, quietly able to sustain itself in an alien and unfriendly world."

Superlatives have often been used to describe Bellow's work. Brigitte Scheer-Schazler in her 1972 study of Bellow's fiction, Saul Bellow, devoted her introduction in part to discussing Bellow's critical reputation. She describes him as "America's most important living novelist," "a 'contemporary classic,'" and asserts that "no contemporary American novelist equals Bellow in the precision, wit, and elegance of his style." Scheer-Schazler noted that Seize the Day "contains...

(The entire section contains 770 words.)

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