The novel, Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow, takes place throughout one day in Tommy’s life. In this day, Tommy views his life as full of problems and misfortunes. The decisions Tommy makes to solve his problems in life are not the product of smart motives and only put Tommy farther into a financial and emotional disaster. These disasters are a result of Tommy carrying something and someone “on his back. ” Tommy’s failures and misfortunes, Margaret, and Tamkin are the burdens that Tommy carries on his back that eventually result in Tommy realizing the need for a change and shape the themes offered throughout the novel.
Dr. Adler considers Tommy a failure. Tommy went off on his own adventures during his younger years, seeking out wealth and fame. He never finished college and quit the well-paying job at Rojax Company because he did not get the promotion he thought he deserved. Out of all this, Tommy is left with his father’s disapproval and shame. Dr. Adler is ashamed of Tommy for not becoming the wealthy man, like himself, and for not upholding the image that many others had of Dr. Adler. Dr. Adler often brags about Tommy and his sales executive job to make himself look good.
But he heard the old man bragging to another old man . . His income is up in the five figures somewhere” (Bellow 13). Even though Dr. Adler makes Tommy’s life sound wonderful to others, Dr. Adler knows Tommy is in desperate need of help, mainly financially. However, Dr. Adler makes his point very clear that he will not help Tommy financially because he has the rest of his life to live. Also, Dr. Adler refuses to offer any help because Tommy has done nothing but wait for help, and Tommy does not take responsibility for everything that has gone wrong in his life.
Rather, Tommy views his past as merely bad luck and not as his fault. Overall, Dr. Adler thinks of Tommy as a child, Wilky, not as an adult and far from responsible. It is Dr. Adler’s disapproval and unwillingness to help him that Tommy carries on his back. Tommy knows Dr. Adler has the money to help and yet he does not help him. This adds more frustration for Tommy and only adds more problems to his already long list of problems. Over the past few years, Tommy gets the hint that Dr. Adler could care less about him and what happens to him now or in the future.
This is also frustrating to Tommy knowing his own father could care less about his problems and that his father thinks all these roblems are Tommy’s fault. “. . . you aren’t even sorry. That’s because you have no affection for me, and you don’t want any part of me” (Bellow 54). The fact that Dr. Adler feels Tommy concentrates too much on his problems in life and not the few troubles in life, disturbs Tommy because to him, the past has now caused nothing but problems and worries. Tommy, throughout the whole novel, carries Dr. Adler’s disapproval and unwillingness on his back.
This eventually causes Tommy to sink farther into a financial and emotional hole. Tommy not only carries his father’s disapproval and unwillingness to help, e also carries many misfortunes he has brought upon himself. For instance, Tommy left his wife Margaret and two sons for Olive, a young Catholic woman. Leaving Margaret does not lead to the freedom Tommy had imagined. Already being in a financially rough spot in life, Tommy quit his job at the Rojax Company, which did not help make matters better. Not having a job put Tommy in an even bigger financial hole that only kept getting deeper. Now he had to rethink the future, because of the money problem” (Bellow 30). Tommy does not take responsibility for the problems that occur throughout his life. Rather, he sees it as bad luck, which only causes more issues to be dealt with.
Throughout the novel, everything that takes place, from Tommy’s Hollywood career to investments in commodities with Tamkin, is bad luck. This bad luck has caused too many problems in Tommy’s life. It is now too late, for Tommy, to go back and change the past. By now, Tommy has no choice but to forget the time wasted and begin to make a change. Things were too complex, but they might be reduced to simplicity again. Recovery was possible . . . ” (Bellow 78). He now was living the latter part of his life trying to recuperate from his mistakes n his earlier days. Thus, Tommy also carries the many misfortunes that he has created over time on his back. Tommy also views many people in his life as though he is carrying them on his back. For example, Margaret, who eventually will be Tommy’s ex-wife. However, even though they are not officially divorced, she is viewed as being on Tommy’s back.
Margaret is portrayed as extremely demanding and seeking revenge on Tommy for his freedom. Tommy believes Margaret’s sole purpose in life is to destroy him. Margaret will not sign the divorce papers so Tommy can move on with Olive. This is tormenting Tommy because e is unable to move on, make a new life, and make a new sense of happiness. Also, Margaret is taking him for everything he has left. She is demanding extreme amounts of money for the two boys, and, in essence, Tommy was to pay for his freedom. Tommy is unable to afford the extremes Margaret puts him through.
Tommy eventually cannot take any more of the suffering from Margaret. Tommy is getting the feeling that Margaret is slowly suffocating him and is aiming to kill. Margaret is not going to let Tommy be happy until he pays her price and endures enough pain. After all, Tommy left her. “She went out with other men, but took his money. She lived in order to punish him” (Bellow 94). It is these extremes that Margaret puts Tommy through. He feels he is carrying her on his back. Tommy is supporting Margaret, paying for his mistakes, and getting nothing in return.
Tommy is not even getting a breath of happiness without feeling as though he is slowly being suffocated. At first, when Tommy gets acquainted with Tamkin, he feels as though he has found a father like figure. Tamkin gives Tommy the understanding and the sympathy that Tommy has been longing to have. Tamkin offers Tommy ways to help get him out of his financial hole. Tamkin makes life sound extremely wonderful and rewarding for Tommy if he follows Tamkin’s advice and invests with him in commodities. Tommy gradually gains confidence in Tamkin through his literary preaching of how wonderful life can be.
Throughout their friendship, Tommy thinks Tamkin is carrying him on his back. Tamkin offers advice and an illusion of the brighter side in life. Both, Tommy and Tamkin, go in together as partners when buying stock. In all actuality, Tamkin is using the confidence he gave Tommy to get ahead in life for himself. Tommy often pays for meals and puts in over half of the money to buy stock. Yet, Tommy can barely support himself and his two sons. Tommy occasionally doubts Tamkin’s stories and yet he never bothers to look at everything as one big picture.
However, when Tommy realizes he has been carrying Tamkin on his back, it is far too late to make a change. Tommy had already given Tamkin his last cent and signed power of attorney over to Tamkin. Tommy’s realization of him carrying Tamkin finally sinks in when Tamkin is nowhere to be found at the market. Tamkin owes Tommy money and deserts Tommy in his desperate time of need. Tommy was trying his best to improve and make a change in life, and in the end, was left lone for everything to close in on him. “I just can’t breathe. My chest is all up-I feel choked.
I just simply can’t catch my breathe” (Bellow 109). Tamkin leaves Tommy in a worse state than before the two men knew one another. Tommy is now in the deepest of financial problems and an emotional bind that offers no way out. Margaret, Tamkin, and Tommy’s misfortunes are what contribute to the overall themes of the novel. Throughout the whole novel, Tommy carries something or someone on his back: his father’s disapproval and unwillingness to help, his misfortunes, Margaret, and Tamkin. No matter ow many times his father repeats himself in telling Tommy to carry nobody, he does not listen.
Tommy needs to find that someone to help him get his life back together both financially and emotionally. Tommy thinks that someone is Tamkin. Then in the end Tamkin puts Tommy in a bigger financial and emotional crisis. Also, for all the mistakes made in his life, Tommy is paying both financially and emotionally by carrying Margaret on his back. Water imagery is an important theme of the book because it symbolizes how carrying something and someone on one’s back, like Tommy does, gradually auses one to drown in one’s own life of financial and emotional distress.
For instance, carrying the many burdens Dr. Adler and Margaret put Tommy through causes many unshed tears. In the end Tommy’s life gradually sinks even further into debt. “Maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life . . . and suffer from them on this earth . . . And finally sink beneath the watery floor . . . ” (Bellow 56).
In the end, water imagery brings about realities Tommy must face and the rebirth of Tommy as a new person. “. . . heavy sea-like music came up to his ears . . poured into him where he had hidden himself . . . he great and happy oblivion of tears . . . through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need” (Bellow 118). Over the course of the day, Tommy’s reoccurring flashbacks provide him with the truths of reality. Tommy longs for someone to help make his problems disappear. This led to Tommy enduring more financial and emotional problems and to Tommy carrying more burdens on his back. In conclusion, the major theme of the book, carrying someone or something on Tommy’s back, leads him to the point of his breakdown and rebirth.