Seize the Day, Saul Bellow

Historical and Cultural Context

In the backdrop of Seize the Day is the transformative 1950s America, a nation reshaping itself after the tumult of World War II. While the country basked in economic prosperity, there was an undercurrent of disillusionment. The once-coveted 'American Dream' was now under scrutiny, with the rapid urbanisation and evolving societal norms prompting many to question its true value.

At this time, the seductive pull of consumerism became more pronounced. The 1950s marked a surge in materialistic values, as the promise of happiness seemed increasingly tied to possessions. Bellow's narrative brilliantly captures the tension between the allure of material success and the deeper quest for personal fulfilment.

Another significant theme is existentialism, a philosophical movement that was weaving its way into literature and public thought. This ideology, which highlights individual freedom, choice, and the search for meaning in a seemingly indifferent world, finds echoes in the journey of Bellow's protagonist. His struggle for purpose and understanding mirrors the existential dilemmas faced by many during that era.

As a Jewish-American writer, Bellow's work is imbued with the nuances of the Jewish-American experience. The novel subtly touches on the challenges of holding onto one's identity amidst a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Themes of alienation, tradition, and the quest for belonging resonate throughout the story, offering a poignant reflection of the times.

A. 1920s

B. 1930s

C. 1940s

D. 1950s

2. What was America experiencing economically after World War II?

A. Economic downturn

B. Economic stagnation

C. Economic prosperity

D. Economic depression

3. In the 1950s, what was growing in influence in America?

A. Minimalism

B. Conservatism

C. Consumerism

D. Socialism

4. What philosophical movement is reflected in Seize the Day?

A. Absurdism

B. Nihilism

C. Existentialism

D. Rationalism

DISCUSSION:  How do you think a person's search for meaning and purpose might change in a society that prioritises material success over personal fulfilment? Discuss using Seize the Day as a starting point. 

Further reading