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Influenced by the current milieu of the time of modernism and existentialism, Bellow presents an alienated hero who seeks to find meaning in a hostile environment. As the months pass, Joseph erupts into anti-social behavior, quarrels with his friends and relatives, and succumbs to outbursts of paranoia and violent behavior.
At the end of the novel he admits that his experiment has been a failure and that his search for meaning cannot be conducted in this manner. Reduced to the same common physical, social, and historical denominator as everyone else, Joseph joins the Army to live a life of regular hours and regimentation. The theme of the novel is recorded in the two interviews that Joseph has with his alter ego, whom he calls Tu As Raison Aussi. Too narrow. Too cowardly. Ideal constructions are a product of belief and are sustainable only with the conviction that it is part of an enduring reality.
No answer is provided to Joseph. Before this crisis, Joseph was a man of thought and a reader of books, with a particular interest in the Enlightenment. To discover the blessedness of unreason? To perceive and explain the world rationally was one of the great aspirations of the Enlightenment and of Joseph before his crisis. But the inability to anchor himself beyond his own reason creates the very crisis that engulfs Joseph. He resists against the seductions of Tu As Raison Aussi , but, in the end, the case for reason is unable to justify its own existence.
Recognizing the transience of both his childhood and of the room, Joseph concludes that life is fundamentally one of grace:. I look around at the restored walls.
This place which I avoided ordinarily, had great personal significance for me. Tragically for Joseph, this insight does not take root in him. It may be gone fifty years hence. Such reality, I thought is actually very dangerous, very treacherous.
Seeking truth, reason must be retreat or face annihilation, for it confronts a reality which it cannot understand. It is only when he fights with a fellow boarder does Joseph become jolted out of his irrationality and closes his experiment. This experiment that marked the beginning of the novel is replaced with Joseph enlisting in the Army, something that one would expect of a protagonist in a Hemingway novel. Great pressure is brought to bear to make us undervalue ourselves.
Or nothing so distinctive as quarry, but one of a shoal, driven toward the weirs. Hurray for regular hours! And for the supervision of the spirit!
Long live regimentation! The tragedy of Joseph is that he comes to this realization but later rejects it in the name of reason, but reason is not able to furnish him meaning to his life and thus leads him to surrender to an ideal construction that is neither real nor appealable. Joseph inability to cope with his freedom is a result of his program to become a self-educated man, an ideal construction of eighteenth-century rationalism.
But when it comes to reflection upon himself, we find his thoughts are unsorted, with various musings here and there but no concluding statements. Instead of philosophical examination, Joseph writes of the quotidian, as when he observes himself in the mirror:. It is not pleasant to find such changes. But, tying my tie, I shrugged them off as inevitable, the price of experience, an outlay that had better be made ungrudgingly, since it was bound in any case to be collected.
Do you have a chill? The lack of an orderly systematic way to organize his thoughts and his fear of abstract discourse in general are a reaction to such thought found in the character Jimmy Burns. In the past Joseph and Jimmy had a close working relationship. The rest have compromised themselves to the ears, but he still believes in the revolution.
He has seen what it has done to his ex-comrade. This conflict between abstract, organized thought and individual existence is manifested when Joseph makes a scene to force Burns to recognize his existence. As much as the ideologue may try, he or she cannot think someone out of existence. Reality cannot be ignored. Whereas Jimmy Burns has reasoned himself out of reality, Joseph remains in touch with the world because the reality of someone like Burns repels him from using his reason abstractly.
The tragedy for Joseph is that he eventually remains locked in the epistemological mode of reason, even when he encounters moments of grace as when he visits his childhood room. The reason he employs may be better than the one Burns uses — concrete in attention and unsorted in its manner — but it is unable to furnish any significant meaning for his existence. As Joseph admits, his experiment has been failure. In other words, Bellow points out the failure of archetypes to guide us in our lives because the experience of reality will always be greater and more resourceful than any account of it.
The failure of his experiment does not lead Joseph to suicide, as one would expect, but to join the Army. At best, Bellow implies in his first novel, one can only experience it with the hope that this experience will be one that is life-affirming and gratuitous in nature.
This is where we truly dangle as human beings: in our encounter with reality that reveals its genuine nature to us not as despair but one of hope.
Baim, Joseph. Baumbach, Joseph. Bellow, Saul. New York: Library of America. Brans, Jo. Cecil, L. De Vries, Peter. Fearing, Kenneth. Glenday, Michael K. Ikeda, Choko. Lehan, Richard. Lyons, Bonnie. Majdiak, Daniel. Markos, Donald W. Reichman, Ravit. Wilson, Edmund.
Paige , —45 and Wilson , 78, 81—82; also De Vries , 3; Fearing , 5, 15; and Heppenstall , — It is not visited again until Henderson the Rain King. It is only when Henderson dispenses with modern philosophies and ethics, e.
Refer to Cecil , —; Majdiak , —46; and Markos , — See Bellow , ; also Lyons , 45— This was originally published with the same title in Expositions 6. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView present and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film present. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
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Expecting to be inducted into the army, Joseph has given up his job and carefully prepared for his departure to the battlefront. When a series of mix-ups delays his induction, he finds himself facing a year of idleness. Dangling Man is his journal, a wonderful account of his restless wanderings through Chicago's streets, his musings on the past, his psychological reaction to his inactivity while war rages around him, and his uneasy insights into the nature of freedom and choice. He set his heart on becoming a writer after reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, contrary to his mother's hopes that he would become a rabbi or a concert violinist.
The Search to Be Human in Dangling Man
Influenced by the current milieu of the time of modernism and existentialism, Bellow presents an alienated hero who seeks to find meaning in a hostile environment. As the months pass, Joseph erupts into anti-social behavior, quarrels with his friends and relatives, and succumbs to outbursts of paranoia and violent behavior. At the end of the novel he admits that his experiment has been a failure and that his search for meaning cannot be conducted in this manner. Reduced to the same common physical, social, and historical denominator as everyone else, Joseph joins the Army to live a life of regular hours and regimentation. The theme of the novel is recorded in the two interviews that Joseph has with his alter ego, whom he calls Tu As Raison Aussi. Too narrow. Too cowardly.