"People don't realize how much they are in the grip of ideas", Bellow once wrote. "We live among ideas much more than we live in nature."[7] Herzog is such a person. In fact, he considers his addiction to ideas to be his greatest virtue. And, it should be noted, Herzog's ideas, as expressed in his letters, are brilliant and seductive; "After Herzog", the New York Times book reviewer exulted, "no writer need pretend in his fiction that his education stopped in the eighth grade."[8] But, said Bellow in an interview, Herzog "comes to realize at last that what he considers his intellectual 'privilege' has proved to be another form of bondage."[9] It is only when he has loosened this bondage and gotten in touch with the "primordial person" who exists outside this ideology that Herzog can "achieve the experience of authentic being."[10]

The story is told entirely from Herzog's point of view; of the hero's pervasive consciousness, Irving Howe wrote: "We are made captive in the world of Herzog... the consciousness of the character forms the enclosing medium of the novel."[11] The beauty of the novel lies in this dissection of Herzog's mind. In typical Bellow style, the descriptions of characters' emotions and physical features are rich in wit and energy. Herzog's relationships are the central theme of the novel, not just with women and friends, but also society and himself. Herzog's own thoughts and thought processes are laid bare in the letters he writes.[12]

As the novel progresses, the letters (represented in italics) become fewer and fewer. This seems to mirror the healing of the narrator's mind, as his attention turns from his inner struggles and the intellectual ideas that fascinate him towards the real world outside and the real options offered by his current situation – not having to be a scholar, the possibility of starting afresh with Ramona, and so on. In other words, the psychological clarification that is taking place at the level of content is reflected stylistically in the movement from a predominantly epistolary mode towards a more linearly organized narrative.

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