Mr. Sammler's Planet

Literary significance and criticism

Though some critics have pigeonholed the novel as a response to the Holocaust[3] or as a Jeremiad against 1960s social mores[4] — and it is true that Sammler is horrified by those mores because, as Philip Roth pointed out, he views them as "the betrayal by the crazy species of the civilized ideal"[5] — others have noted that the novel revolves, as does Herzog, around Sammler's conflicts between intellect and intuition, between acting in the world and standing aside to observe it.[6] In a slowly building epiphany at the novel's end, Sammler finds a balance; Joyce Carol Oates wrote that she admired "the conclusion of Mr. Sammler's Planet, which is so powerful that it forces us to immediately reread the entire novel, because we have been altered in the process of reading it and are now, at its conclusion, ready to begin reading it."[7] At the conclusion, Sammler speaks to God. Referring either to the existence of objective moral truths or to the existence of God Himself, he says: "For that is the truth of it--that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know."[8] In a lecture a few years later, asked to explain those lines, Bellow said this: "You read the New Testament and the assumption Jesus makes continually is that people know the difference immediately between good and evil... And that is in part what faith means. It doesn't even require discussion. It means that there is an implicit knowledge -- very ancient if not eternal -- which human beings really share and that if they based their relationships on that knowledge existence could be transformed."[9]


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