Herzog Summary and Analysis of Section 4


On the morning following his return, Moses writes more letters. He writes to the priest Monsignor Hilton, who converted Madeleine to Christianity, intending to somehow blame him for what has occurred. He cannot make a clear connection, however, and his thoughts promptly retreat to his separation from Daisy, his first wife. During that time he drank heavily and took pills. He was involved with a Japanese woman name Sono Oguki. He remembers commuting from Philadelphia, where he lived, to New York to work and to visit Marco, his son from his first marriage. He remembers being in love with Madeleine and wanting to marry her. Her parents, Tennie and Pontritter, found Moses a fine source of stability for their temperamental daughter. Madeleine claimed to be disgusted by her parents, describing Tennie as weak and subordinate and Pontritter as brutal and sexually abusive. Tennie, in turn, told Moses that he would save Madeleine, whose bipolarity is deeply rooted.

Moses recalls country life with the newly converted Christian Madeleine. He remembers finding Madeleine's piety exhaustingly melodramatic, and he remembers her pressing him to divorce Daisy so that she might marry him in Church. Eventually he did divorce Daisy and marry Madeleine, who at that point had dropped religion, showing herself interested in theatrics beyond anything else. He bought the place in the Berkshires and started fixing it up. Madeleine's discontentment as a housewife began to swell. By this time she was pregnant.

Moses remembers the conservative nature of his first wife Daisy, reading her vicious, chilly organization as a response to his tendency toward chaos, an uneasy mixture that ultimately ended the marriage.

His thoughts then flow to the memory of his childhood on Napoleon Street in Montreal, and to his boyhood friend, Nachman, whom he has recently glimpsed on the street in New York. He remembers Nachman's love affair in Paris with a neurotic woman named Laura. When Laura's parents took her away to America, Moses loaned Nachman the money to pursue her. Laura ended up in an asylum, much to Nachman's dismay. This memory is followed by thoughts of Jonah, his deadbeat father, scolded by militant Aunt Zipporah for being a weak man: "'Blame your own weak nature,' said Zipporah. 'Az du host a schwachen natur, wer is dir schuldig? You can't stand alone. You leaned on Sarah's brother, and now you want to lean on me...Get your hands dirty? Not you.'"

More reminiscences flood Moses' mind, and the onslaught leads him to ponder his own Jewish upbringing, and thereby his identity. The chapter ends with the assertion that Laura must have ultimately killed herself.


As seen in the last chapter, death is constantly on Moses' mind. It punctuates everything, and its presence as a kind of mental phantom is further evidence of the swelling existential depression he is shouldering.

We meet his family for the first time en masse and perceive how his well-intentioned yet weak father crumbles beneath Aunt Zipporah's dynamism. Mother Herzog is a nameless, background figure and flawless caretaker to whom Moses need answer for nothing. This dynamic mirrors the way Moses relates to women throughout the novel; more crucially, it perhaps gives us insight as to why. Indeed, the present is inextricably linked to the past, adulthood to childhood, the disappointments of marriage to the pangs of first love.

The roots and the nature of Madeleine's madness also emerge through the writing, and Moses' frenzied thoughts. His own reasons for marrying Madeleine are somewhat foggy; the integration of her parents into the scene suggests that his intentions at the time were unclear. Madeleine appears to have been more of a distraction for him than anything else. He thinks of himself as her caretaker, which prompts in him deep resentment, we learn later on, as Herzog himself longs for caretaking. We also witness the passivity that Herzog inherited from his father, as it takes Madeleine's persuasion for him to finally end the marriage with Daisy and marry her in the first place. Nachman's allegiance to Laura, considered in the same chapter, calls into question the effect madness has on infatuation.

The introduction of Daisy suggests that Herzog's frenetic nature is a constant trait and not merely a result of recent difficulties. Bellow is slowly but surely building a history of Herzog's inability to cope with intimacy. From this impasse, a kind of pathological alienation develops; Moses feels nothing for those whom he thinks he should love. He is adrift, spiritually and emotionally a loner. The intense subjectivity of the prose emerges as a reflection of Herzog's own inward perspective; whether we sympathize or not, the various strands of the protagonist's psyche and persona come into sharper focus in this chapter. We have here some sort of a tragic hero (or anti-hero), plagued by immutable flaws. Perhaps Moses is not so far off after all when he likens himself to the fallen monarchs of old.