Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Manhattan. Borough of New York City in which most of the novella’s action takes place, particularly among the fashionable neighborhoods near Broadway in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. During a single day, Tommy Wilhelm remembers growing up in his family home on West End Avenue, visits the brokerage house where his commodities are losing value, eats lunch with Dr. Tamkin in a nearby cafeteria, takes old Mr. Rappaport to a cigar store—all familiar locations on the Upper West Side in the 1950’s.


Gloriana. Aging Manhattan hotel. The major characters here, Tommy, his father (Dr. Adler), and his enigmatic advisor (Tamkin), all live at the Gloriana. Tommy spends time talking with Rubin at his newsstand in the lobby, eating breakfast with his father and then Tamkin in the dining room, and finally chasing Dr. Adler into the subterranean massage room where the father rejects his son. Housing mostly retired Jewish men and women, the Gloriana is contrasted with the Ansonia, a hotel built by turn-of-the-century architect Stanford White.


*Brooklyn. New York City borough that is home to Wilky’s family, his former wife and two sons. While it has been a site of much of Wilky’s suffering, it is also the location of Ebbets Field, where Wilky has taken his boys on happier days to watch the Dodgers play baseball.

*Los Angeles

*Los Angeles. Southern California home of Hollywood and the scene of Tommy’s first failure, in the 1930’s, when, lured by the idea of easy money, he goes to the West Coast hoping for a career as an actor, and there changes his name from Wilhelm Adler to Tommy Wilhelm.

Funeral parlor

Funeral parlor. Scene of Tommy’s final epiphany. At the end of the novel, searching for the elusive Tamkin, Tommy is pushed by a crowd into a funeral parlor, observes the corpse, and sobs. In Saul Bellow’s symbolic prose, Tommy achieves some kind of catharsis.