Herzog Summary and Analysis of Section 9


The next day, Moses is back in Ludeyville, finding it pleasing despite its state of decay and disarray. He examines the old canned foods, the fancier of which were brought by Madeleine. He notices the shower railing they had put in especially for the crippled Valentine Gersbach. He finds proof on the sofa "that the place was indeed visited by lovers," and delights in the fact that they appear to have slept in his room. He writes Ramona a gentle apology and Marco an invitation to join him and "rough it" in "the old homestead." These letters are the first that Moses actually sends; he sends them through Asphalter to keep his whereabouts mysterious to the persistent Ramona. He then begins a rash of letters he will not send, making peace with Valentine and Madeleine, at first criticizing Nietzsche but then praising him for wanting to "make us able to live with the void." These letters have a markedly joyful tone.

Upon his visit, Will presses Moses to put the house up for sale. He expresses concern for Moses's mental state. Herzog protests this worry and becomes impassioned, grappling with his emotions to maintain a sane composure. He resists Will's suggestions of hospitalization and instead convinces him to escort him to the house of the Tuttles, a local couple who can help Moses fix up the house.

Moses discovers at the Tuttles that Ramona has been trying to contact him, saying she is in town. They meet up; Moses introduces her to Will and invites her for dinner. Will, though impressed with her looks, warns Moses not to fall for her should she prove a beautiful fanatic, as Madeleine was. Moses reassures his brother with an air of utter security. Will departs.

The novel closes on Moses preparing dinner. He realizes "perhaps he'd stop writing letters. Yes, that was what was coming, in fact. The knowledge that he was done with these letters. Whatever had come over him during these last months, the spell, really seemed to be passing, really going." The final words of the novel echo this resolution, as Moses realizes: "At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word."


Moses is pleased by the souvenirs littering Ludeyville because he is finally able to assign them to his past. His efforts to clean the house represent his processing and disposal of demons. Resisting treatment, he seems determined to cure himself. This stands as an affirmation of his true mental stability.

Unharbored by resentment, he finally writes letters and sends them, assuming responsibility for his own words. Unlike before, Moses is communicating with those around him, putting his own thoughts to trial and not creating a separate reality in which to incubate his conscience. The letters he does not send do not need to be sent, as they would serve no purpose. Herzog realizes this; hence these letters are the last of their kind. Moses has taken charge of his life "within the void."

Will worries for Moses and Ramona, but Moses and the readers know better. Ramona has never demanded anything of Moses that she has not returned to him a hundredfold. Moses knows that Ramona is sane and in control enough to not require a caretaker. She will probably be able to offer to Moses the little caretaking he may still need.

Moses contacts his neighbors; he is asserting himself not only as a person but as a part of his environment. The house in Ludeyville might be interpreted as a reflection of Moses' own interior state through the course of the book: its decay and desolation have, like his, only now begun their remedy. There is hope in the fact that the book ends on Mrs. Tuttle washing dishes and Moses preparing dinner. It implies that the healing in Ludeyville shall continue until fruition.

And yet, despite the undeniable optimism of the novels' closing passages, what is perhaps most notable is Moses' decision not to write another letter - at least not in the near future. He withdraws as an author, and it is at that juncture that Bellow essentially does the same. Author and character are therefore linked; Herzog is Herzog. Bellow seems indeed skeptical of the power of words, surprisingly so even; a theme percolating through his novel is the inability of words to provide adequate communication between people, and to fully express the complexities of human life. It's a paradoxical contention, of course, since Bellow does intend, it would seem, to paint a complete portrait for us, albeit of a rather incomplete man. Insofar as that portrait can be read as in part autobiographical, it is significant that the narrative ends with the decision not to write - as if that were the happy resolution to life's problems.

The letters are tools of interiority; they provide a kind of running inner monologue; they are thoughts translated to paper. Stripped of them, Moses becomes unknowable, unwriteable, no longer a character. These concerns may seem exceedingly formalist, but it is worth considering the way in which Moses' narrative cannot continue, and cannot have an end. Resolution is a false narrative construct, pinned to a far more complex contemplation of the word and its role in society, in life, and in our minds. It is therefore appropriate that Herzog be considered philosophy as well as fiction.