Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) is a prolific and influential Canadian-American author considered to be one of the best writers of the 20th century. His achievements in writing and the humanities have awarded Bellows many prizes including a Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in 1976. He is most well known for his novels Herzog (1964) and Humboldt's Gift (1975).

Saul Bellow Saul Bellow

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    Biography of Saul Bellow

    Saul Bellow was born on June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, Canada. He lived with his parents who had immigrated to Canada from St. Petersburg. He had one older sister and two older brothers. Bellow was often sick as a child, struggling with respiratory problems. Bellow moved with his family to Chicago when he was 9 years old. Chicago would later greatly influence many of the settings in his novels.

    Saul Bellow, Picture of Chicago, StudySmarterBellow was greatly influenced by Chicago. Pixabay.

    Bellow's family was religious, but Bellow found it suffocating. However, he did enjoy reading the Torah, a Jewish religious text. It was during this period that he began to write. Bellow was influenced by Russian literature, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), and Shakespeare.

    While attending the University of Chicago and later Northwestern University, Bellows studied anthropology and sociology after he felt unwelcome by the literature department due to his religion. However, Bellow's anthropological background helped inform many of his later works. Bellow began working at the Works Progress Administration Chicago Branch in the 1930s and became involved with the Trotskyists.

    The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a program devised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to help with employment and infrastructure during the Great Depression—a time of high unemployment, poverty, and hunger.

    Trotskyism was a branch of Marxism, a political ideology and party, that supported the revolutionary Leon Trotsky who was against Capitalism and the exploitation of workers. He believed in a permanent revolution against capitalism in support of socialism. Bellow met Leon Trotsky on a trip to Mexico.

    After becoming a naturalized citizen in 1941, Bellow joined the Merchant Marines during the Second World War. It was during this time he completed his first novel inspired by the war draft called Dangling Man (1944). After the war, while teaching at the University of Minnesota, Bellows wrote another novel The Victim (1947). After receiving a Guggenheim fellowship in 1948, Bellows went to Paris and wrote The Adventures of Augie March (1953) which solidified his position as a recognized author. He returned to Minnesota in 1958.

    Saul Bellow, open novel, StudySmarterSaul Bellow's first novel is called Dangling Man. Pixabay.

    In 1961, he moved to Rio Piedra, Puerto Rico to teach at the University of Puerto Rico. By 1962, he was back in Chicago to teach at the University of Chicago. He taught on the Committee on Social Thought alongside his close friend Allan Bloom, an American philosopher and classicist. In 1964, Bellow wrote his first bestseller, Herzog (1964) which was focused on mental instability in a college professor. Mental instability would become a central theme in many of his novels.

    In 1976, Bellow won the Nobel Prize in literature for his novel Humboldt's Gift (1976). Bellow also was selected for the Jefferson Lecture, the highest honor for achievement in the humanities granted by the United States. Between 1981 and 1982, Bellows was the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Victoria. In 1993, Bellow moved to Boston to co-teach at Boston University. He lived there until he died in 2005 at the age of 89.

    The Works of Saul Bellow

    Bellow won many awards for his many books, short stories, and other literary works. His experience living in Chicago as a Jewish man and his background in sociology and anthropology informed many of his pieces. He focused on themes such as the potential for humans to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness, as well as the nature and flaws of modern civilization.

    Books by Saul Bellow

    The most recognized books written by Saul Bellow are The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt's Gift.

    The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

    Augie March grows up in Chicago amid poverty. He tries to overcome it by engaging in activities such as committing minor crimes, attempting to marry an heiress, and many other schemes. Augie must try and find out about his true self and focus on aligning himself with his true purpose in life. The Adventures of Augie March contains themes such as self-identity, love, and choosing the right path.

    You better get wise to this. If people don't know what you qualify in they'll never know where to place you, and that can be dangerous. You have to get in there and do something for yourself" (Chapter 10).

    The protagonist Augie needs to learn more about what his dreams, goals, and wishes are before he can try to gain employment. If he is uncertain about what he wants, others won't know how to help him.

    Herzog (1964)

    Moses E. Herzog is recently divorced for the second time and is experiencing a mid-life crisis. The novel is made up of letters Herzog writes to family and friends from his home in the Berkshires. He never sends the letters. The novel focuses on the mind and memory of Herzog as he tries to overcome life obstacles. The novel contains themes such as the internal struggle and power that modern man faces and psychology.

    Saul Bellow, Tree like image of a brain, StudySmarterHerzog brings us into the mind of the main character, Moses E. Herzog. Pixabay.

    Humboldt's Gift (1976)

    Charlie Citrine, an award-winning author and intellectual, is reflecting on two figures significant to his life. The first is Von Humboldt Fleisher, his mentor who is now dead. The second is Rinaldo Cantabile, who only caused trouble for Charlie. Charlie contemplates what each figure taught him and how they have both influenced the course of his life. However, Charlie must learn to follow his life path. The novel contains themes such as reflections on death, the meaning of money and success, and self-found fulfillment and happiness.

    Short Stories by Saul Bellow

    In addition to writing many books, Saul Bellow wrote many short stories. Two notable short story collections written by Bellow are Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968) and Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984). His short stories are usually centered around a potential hero who has to face obstacles and rise above them to achieve greatness. Along with explorations of human nature, Bellow's short stories discuss negativity in society such as the alienation of minority groups and the problems with materialism. Bellows was heavily inspired by Marcel Proust and Henry James.

    Non-fiction Works and Essays by Saul Bellow

    In addition to writing inventive novels and short stories, Saul Bellow was known for his non-fiction works. Most of his non-fiction pieces are memoirs, essays, letters, and short non-fiction pieces that explore observations of modern man and the obstacles he faces in modern society. His most famous non-fiction work is a memoir titled Jerusalem and Back (1976) which explores Bellow's interactions with the differing opinions felt by Israelis in the 1970s. Other non-fiction works include:

    • It All Adds Up (1994)
    • Saul Bellow: Letters (2010)
    • There is Simply Too Much to Think About (2016)

    Quotes by Saul Bellow

    Below are a few quotes from the works of Saul Bellow:

    In an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuit of sanity can be a form of madness, too" (Henderson the Rain King, Chapter 3).

    Bellow wrote frequently on the mental state of modern humans. According to this quote from Bellows's 1959 novel, Henderson the Rain King, all humans are slightly mad but it is how we deal with the madness that truly impacts one's life path.

    Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty, but learn to be happy alone" (Ravelstein, p. 140).

    In Saul Bellow's final novel Ravelstein (2000), he reflects on a common theme found in his work. All humans are greatly influenced by external factors such as people, education, environment, etc. but it is up to the individual to realize their self-worth and potential.

    A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep" (To Jerusalem and Back, p. 100).

    In Jerusalem and Back (1976), Bellow explains that in the face of denying a truth, humans tend to focus greatly on ignoring problems and uncomfortable feelings. This causes intelligent people to become ignorant rather than face reality.

    Saul Bellow - Key takeaways

    • Saul Bellows was born in Canada in 1915, but he spent the majority of his life in Chicago. Throughout his life, he taught in and traveled to many countries.
    • He wrote his first novel A Dangling Man while serving as a Merchant Marine during World War 2.
    • He is most famous for his novels The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt's Gift which awarded him a Nobel Prize for literature in 1976.
    • Saul Bellows wrote many short stories, nonfiction pieces, plays, and novellas along with his many books.
    • He focused on themes that explored the potential hero and how humans achieve greatness in the face of obstacles. He also explored the nature of mental instability in modern man.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Saul Bellow

    Who is Saul Bellow? 

    Saul Bellow is an influential and prolific Canadian- American author. 

    How did Saul Bellow die? 

    Saul Bellows died of old age in 2005. 

    What did Saul Bellow write? 

    Saul Bellow wrote many novels, short stories, and other works of literature. He is most well known for his novels Herzog (1964) and Humboldt's Gift (1976). 

    What influenced Saul Bellow as a writer? 

    Bellow was influenced by his childhood in Chicago, his belief in Trotskyism, and his anthropological and sociological background. 

    Where was Saul Bellow born? 

    Saul Bellow was in Lachine, Quebec, Canada. 

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