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Inside a Myth in the American Society: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

There is a term we come across, consciously or not, widely known as American Dream. As we turn back roots to the existence of the American Dream, one can perceive that the main idea of the American Dream is based on the Declaration of Independence, which is a proclamation of the United States of America. In the Declaration of Independence, as Thomas Jefferson said, ''All Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and* [certain] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.'' That ethos has been maintaining its importance since the beginning of the construction of the United States.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, United States

The idea of ''pursuit of happiness'' is so strictly connected with American society that one can not ignore the norms constructed by captivated thought. People can find themselves abide by the chasing circle of success and whether willingly or not, start searching a new purpose to give themselves a feeling of success. Because of this, people from all over the world come to the United States in hopes of finding a new life apart from their lands. With the help of the American Dream from the point of zero, one can reach the status that they consistently strive to gain.

There are a lot of notion contributes the American Myth, but in this novella, one of American Myth is based on ideology knowing as ''American exceptionalism'' which is about every individual categorized themselves as being ''American'' is about having pride and uniqueness. Political scientist Byron E. Shafer explains that “American exceptionalism […] is the notion that the United States was created differently, developed differently, and thus has to be understood differently – essentially on its own terms and within its own context.” In other words, American Myth is related to following an unknown path and being the one who evaluates every opportunity. Seizing possibilities and being achieved inside of the society is the definitive part of the American nation. The opportunities for self-reliant, tangible triumph and definite independence are the elements of a powerful American myth. Saul Bellow aimed to show the loss of American myth in Seize the Day.

The book’s protagonist is Tommy Wilhelm, a floundering salesman who works for the same company resulting in his misery unemployment. Having left his wife, he must pay aliment, though she refuses to grant him a divorce and does not let him take even their dog. Meanwhile, Tommy struggles in the stock market. On the contrary, Tommy’s father Dr. Adler is the ultimate representation of the American Dream. Dr. Adler came from a poor family, and with his endeavors, he managed the achieved status in society. Both emotionally and financially, Dr. Alder prefers to ignore Tommy’s existence because Tommy is an accumulation of disappointment. Dr. Adler is truly a supporter of pursuit of success and has the Protestant work ethic that defines every person should acquire success by working hard. From Tommy's childhood, his father neglected him and only focused on gaining money. Because he does not know another way of life, he attached in his mind the idea of working hard to obtain success. Unlike Tommy, Dr. Adler is rather arrogant, evaluating himself as an accomplished one. But, Tommy and his sister Catherine are an unsuccessful case in his life. Hence, he never treated Tommy as his son and underrated Catherine’s aspirations as a painter.

The 1950's American Dream

Dr. Adler’s pride fizzles out with the presence of Tommy because Dr. Adler cares about material things like money, good social statutes, etc. Therefore, he would like to see his son have these objectives as well. When his children do not follow in his footsteps, he criticizes them. Dr. Adler does not have any sense of pity towards his children, and his enthusiasm for money and dignity is so strong he is always ready to boast himself. Dr. Adler even shares false information about his children to keep his status in society.

Throughout his life, Tommy struggles with an inner dilemma between his desires and the norms dictated to him. Tommy’s identity crisis seizes him from time to time, and he tries to get rid of his roots, as he did not aspire this designed life for himself. As narrated in the novella, ‘’He had cast off his father's name, and with it his father's opinion of him. It was, he knew it was, his bid for liberty, Adler being in his mind the title of the species, Tommy the freedom of the person. But Wilky was his inescapable self.’’ Tommy does not want to see himself as an ordinary person, so Tommy is tempted by a deceptive talent scout into quitting his college life. His eagerness to become an actor captures him and is deluded to go in the 'screen test' that was offered by "Hollywood." As Bellow writes, ‘’Everybody wants to make something. Any American does.’’ However, Tommy's dreams in cinema turns into a spare activity, and he flounders around an unheard movie. He is deceived from every attempt along his life. These disappointments make Tommy more vulnerable. As he mentions in the novella, ‘’ For all the time I have wasted I am very sorry.’’ Tommy's predicament in his life make his condition worse, and the emptiness which Tommy always felt inside of his soul never completes. Nobody cares about what he is going through because he is, according to society, a failing man. Everyone leaves him in a hopeless situation. As Tommy says, ‘’ Let me at least have the companionship of this animal.’’ Society obliges Tommy to accept his failure and make him burst into a burden of outcomes.

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow, 1984, Trade Paperback edition

Every venture Tommy went into end up with frustrations and Tommy’s American Myth is destroyed by the failed successive trials which are proof that American Myth manifestation is not only more than assumptions. Saul Bellow wants to reveal that American society competing not only inside of restricted norms that is put by society but also in a struggle which is about always making moves towards to be achieving success. Pressures have been harming most Americans, just like Tommy, they have been adding themselves bumpy and flimsy hopes. With the promotion of materialistic life, alienation and loneliness became a key fact inside of American society and in this novella emphasizing being an ‘outcast’ is not a special case for Tommy also this is an undeniable truth that contains ingredients of the main idea of it.


Bellow, Saul, Seize the Day, Penguin Classics, 2003

Paul, Heike, The Myths That Made America: An Introduction to American Studies, Transcript-Verlag; 1. edition (November 18, 2014)

‘’ Transcript of the Rough Draft of the Declaration’’, Monticello, , retrieved September 14, 2021

Image Resources

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (1984, Trade Paperback), [Book],


Author Photo

Aylin Usta

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