Herzog Summary and Analysis of Sections 7 and 8


Moved by the mother's murder trial, Moses flees to Chicago, aching to save his own daughter. Before visiting Madeleine he stops at the house of his late father, in which his widow, Taube, now resides. He reflects on the way Taube's firm, deliberate nature contrasts so fiercely with his hot-tempered family: "they had all inherited their father's preposterous quickness and elegance." He gazes at pictures of his family and Taube, and as the widow talks his mind wanders. He recalls the day that he and his father quarreled over money and Jonah pointed a gun at him, driving him out and threatening to leave him nothing in his will. Luckily, Taube interceded disaster at that point.

As Taube fetches Moses water in his father's teacup, our hero goes to his father's desk and pockets the man's pistol, padding it with old Rubles for Marco. He entertains thoughts of killing his second ex-wife and her lover. He drinks his water and departs, driving to Harper Avenue, where Madeleine lives. He parks around the corner and sneaks around the house from window to window, spotting Madeleine in the kitchen and Valentine bathing his daughter in the bathroom. His tender manner defeats Herzog's intentions, and he retreats, realizing that he could not have killed them. He compares himself to his father, thinking "that Father Herzog had never - not once in his life - pulled the trigger of this gun. Only threatened."

He visits Phoebe Gersbach to appeal for her aid in his gaining custody of June. Phoebe is reluctant: she rejects the black portrait Moses paints of Valentine, denying his affair with Madeleine and insisting that he is a good husband. She eventually exhibits some sympathy toward Moses, but remains unhelpful.

Moses spends the night with Asphalter and is graced once again with the sensation of humanistic "potato love." More sympathetic than Phoebe, Asphalter arranges a meeting between Moses and June. Madeleine's condition is that Asphalter pick up June so that Madeleine does not have to see Moses. As the night passes, Moses and Asphalter discuss the latter's beloved dead monkey; Asphalter mentions having to "face the music" in order to move beyond his depression. He emphasizes the importance of facing one's own death, describing an exercise in which one lies, as if dead, in a casket and thinks about what to say to each person who visits. "Now there's nothing to say but what you really thought," claims Asphalter. "And you don't say it to them because you're dead, but only to yourself. Reality, not illusions." The friends talk at length before parting for bed.

As Section 8 begins, Moses enjoys a joyful reunion with June. It is painful, too, particularly as June is overflowing with praise for Valentine, or "Uncle Val." She tells Moses that she "'was crying. But not long'" when Valentine locked her in the car, and assures him that while Uncle Val makes good faces, Moses tells much better stories. June tells Moses that Madeleine has forbidden her to talk about Uncle Val, for fear of angering her father. Moses tells her that this is not so. He tells her a story, gives her a periscope, and takes her on an outing to the Museum of Science and the aquarium, at the same time remembering his father's funeral.

On the way home from the aquarium, Moses' paternal bliss is terminated when his rental car is rammed into a utility pole by a truck. Moses falls unconscious, but luckily June is unhurt.

The cops find the unlicensed gun; they take Herzog and his daughter to the station. Herzog curses his excessive emotionality, realizing that his quest to "save" June from her Uncle Val has only endangered her life. He worries she is permanently traumatized and is struck by a sudden memory of rape from his childhood he has shared with no one. He shudders, then thinks of how "the tender-minded must harden themselves." He experiences a revelation that death is God, then apologizes to his daughter as the police take him in for questioning.

Moses claims to have taken the gun from his father's desk for its sentimental value. He protests when the sergeant calls Madeleine to come collect June. She appears to Moses to be radiant and powerful; Herzog notes that "her conduct was masterful." Moses struggles to maintain a calm demeanor as Madeleine paints as him dangerously insane, admitting to having given a photograph of him to the Hyde Park police "in case he prowled around the house." She accuses him of intending to shoot her. Moses unnerves her by coolly asking her who she thought the gun's second bullet was for. The police escort Madeleine out, and a three hundred dollar bond is set on Moses' head. He calls his brother Will to bail him out.

In his cell, Herzog writes letters to Dr. Edvig, Ramona, and God, each one positive in tone. Will collects him and takes him to the doctor to get his broken rib taped. Will exhibits great concern for Herzog and advises him to take a "complete rest - bed rest." Moses intends to spend a week in Ludeyville. There is talk of selling the place.


Moses experiences another frightening familial flashback in this chapter, indicating the extent to which his self-esteem was battered by his father's disdain. Moses takes a leaf out of his own history, finding some solace in the fact that his father only used the gun to threaten, and that for him to do the same is therefore quite natural. Herzog is here embodying Hegel's philosophy, utilizing his past to justify his present. In one sense Herzog is building a closer relationship with the family that he claims to "childishly" love than he ever has before.

Moreover, he claims a specific family identity, calling Taube slow in comparison to all of "the Herzogs." This affords him enough confidence to stalk Madeleine's house, pistol in pocket, as well as enough security in his own intentions to turn away. Though to any jury Moses may still seem an insidious character, he is regaining his sense of self-worth and therefore his sanity.

His interaction with Phoebe shows him to be in a much more robust state of mind than Mrs. Gersbach. Still in denial about her husband's infidelity, Phoebe argues for his character, denying Moses any affinity he attempts to establish with her. As Moses notes, appearances are everything to Phoebe. Without Valentine cementing her as a spouse she "could not exist, cook, make beds. The trance would break. Then what?" The difference between Phoebe and Herzog is clear: Phoebe requires the spiritual peace of security, whereas Moses requires the goodness to be real.

His realism regarding his situation suits his purpose well. He embraces the "potato love" connection he has with Asphalter, and reaps the benefits. Asphalter offers him therapeutic advice, encouraging Moses to face his own death. In doing this Moses must face death as a concept and live outside of his mother's ghost, lucid about his own mortality. Accepting of an end, he is able to make the most of his life. He arranges to do so in the next chapter, and Bellow has paved the way for the novel's final arc.

In the following chapter, however, Bellow introduces a sort of deus ex machina. The car accident is a narrative turning point - not a projection of interiority, but rather an example of the outside world come crashing in.

Moses' criticism of his own emotionality is of course reinforced after the accident. He relives a painful memory from which he has fled almost his entire life; he is forced to swallow it and live in the present. It is becoming clear that Moses has learned to extract wisdom from his past, and not to merely dwell there.

He realizes, through observing June's reaction to the accident, that he does not wish her to be seeing any of it. His own vivid memory makes him understand the gravity with which an event may traumatize a child, and he wishes to protect June from any psychological scars. By assuming parental responsibility and caring so deeply for another, Herzog has finally transformed from a man in need of care to himself a caretaker. Unlike Madeleine, June seems to Moses thoroughly entitled to his care, and the "correctness" of the situation - the extent to which Moses feels, finally, morally and emotionally justified - means he is no longer treading water.

Madeleine is still "masterful," yet Herzog rises up and defeats his demon at last. Brought to the challenge of meeting her face to face, irked by the police's suggestion that he might be "scared of her," he does not buckle beneath Madeleine's manipulative insults. Rather, he frightens her out of her throne.

The letter Herzog composes to Dr. Edvig while in jail expresses an acceptance of "ambiguities" which has eluded him until presently. This is significant of the end of his quest for a concrete identity and his acceptance of all change, including death. He also writes to Ramona intending to stay in touch. This embrace of continuity and evolution is a new, healthy development in Herzog.

"Potato love" abounds with his brother, Will, who worries for Moses. Rather than fly into a self-righteous rage, Herzog listens to these concerns. He has rediscovered his humanity and feels secure therein.