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Saul Bellow and American Transcendentalism


Mohammad A. Quayum

Saul Bellow and American Transcendentalism explores Saul Bellow’s moral and philosophical affinity with the writers of American transcendentalism, especially Emerson and Whitman. Its focus is on the «vintage» Bellow, or his «mature» novels, from Henderson the Rain King (1959) to The Dean’s December (1982). In these novels, Bellow highlights a moral crisis, arising from humankind’s despiritualization and dehumanization, which, he believes, is responsible for an ongoing dichotomy in the modern world. Bellow describes this as a dichotomy of the «Cleans» and the «Dirties», in the context of American culture. To rectify this dichotomy and redeem humankind from its current «death-ridden» state, Bellow and his protagonists advance a vision of life that corresponds to the transcendental vision of dialogue and «double consciousness», or coordination and balance. Like Emerson, they advocate, «The mid-world is best... A man is a golden impossibility; the line he must walk is a hair’s breadth». Comparable to Whitman, they urge the individual to «knit the knot of contrariety» and act as «an arbiter of the diverse».