Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tommy Wilhelm’s Day of Reckoning (Annotation G2-15)

“Oh, this was a day of reckoning,” (Bellow 103). Tommy Wilhelm has found himself, by early afternoon in a brokerage office with Dr. Tamkin, a man who has convinced him of the easy money to be made in the commodities market. Lard is down, rye is steadily climbing up, but the fear of losing on these commodities is close to the surface for Tommy Wilhelm. As he watches the last of his money falling with the points of lard he asks himself how he got there, and realizes that today is the day he looks at the truth. Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is a few hour glimpse into Tommy Wilhelm’s day of reckoning.
The truth Wilhelm seeks is the alienation he feels. This alienation and his present situation came as a series of events over a long period of time. Neglecting to pursue college and medicine like his father, his failed Hollywood career, the loss of his long-term job with Rojax Corporation, the death of his mother, being estranged from his sister, his wife and his two sons and his girlfriend, Wilhelm finds himself living in a resident hotel, the same hotel as his father. The dwindling money from his brokerage account and his bills coming due add to the stress of the day.
The novella’s time line begins with Tommy Wilhelm in the elevator from his room in the hotel to the dinning room where he generally eats breakfast with his father. He is critical of his appearance, but confident because he wears a hat and smokes a cigar, implying he has to wear a disguise. “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow,” (Bellow 7). The story ends with him crying at the funeral of a stranger some time shortly after lunch. “He, alone of all the people in the chapel, was sobbing. No one knew who he was,” (Bellow 125). In the short relationship the reader has with Wilhelm, Bellow has created a character who is easy to pity. However, in light of the American dream, one of financial success, money equates to wellbeing and status. Wilhelm discovers his lack of direction, his lack of money and his utter loneliness as the reader learns about Wilhelm. However, the difference is simply that the reader realizes much earlier that this is the day of reckoning for Wilhelm.
Bellow, using Wilhelm hits on so many points of modern life, especially in a post World War II world. Wilhelm had been a clerk in the Army participating in the Pacific Theater, and had come home to get an adequate job as a salesman. In the hotel on his morning of reckoning, Wilhelm eats breakfast with his father and another resident, both of whom had been successful men in their prime. In the conversation, Wilhelm feels his life has not been a success because unlike the old men, he has no wealth to show for it.
Monetary wealth aside, he is searching for something in his life, and desperately trying to find reassurance. Dr Tamkin offers such hopefulness, and convinces Wilhelm to look to the commodities market to earn a living. Ultimately, Tamkin looses the last of Wilhelm’s money, and with it the last of his hope. In Tamkin’s “seize the day” speech in the brokerage office Wilhelm is unable to leave the past behind. It was a day of reckoning indeed, and the day ends with a tearful fit in the midst of strangers. In his tears, Wilhelm doesn’t exactly come to terms with the past, nor with his future, but he heroically reaches the emotion fulfilling the reckoning.

Bellow, Saul. Seize the Day. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1966.



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