Herzog Summary and Analysis of Section 5


Ramona calls Moses to invite him to dinner. She playfully accuses him of running out on her, which Moses denies. She bolsters his confidence, berating him: "Then why do you keep aloof, and make me chase you? I realize you want to play the field." She subsequently unleashes one of her dreaded lectures.

Moses agrees to come to dinner and, after hanging up the phone, criticizes himself for his "ridiculous, angry letters! The spite and frenzy in them!" He experiences a violent rage in recounting his polite words to the Monsignor: "I am not writing with the purpose of exposing Madeleine, or to attack you." He tears up the letter, enjoying a pure, murderous fury directed towards both parties.

He then prepares for dinner. He composes, in the process, a letter to Eisenhower about the Cold War, then decides to draw up an outline on "the 'inspired condition'" for his old tutor, Harris Pulver. Herzog claims this condition for the Romantic thinker, and writes that it allows one "to know truth, to be free, to love another, to consummate existence, to abide with death in the clarity of consciousness-without which, racing and conniving to evade death, the spirit...is no longer a rarefied project." He then travels to Ramona's.

Over a decadent meal, Moses finds himself unable to stop telling Ramona about everything he has been enduring. He ponders her many admirers, namely the suicidally devoted George Hoberly, who is still trying to win her back with presents. He talks endlessly, until Ramona plies him from his philosophizing with sex. Afterwards, Moses considers writing to Hoberly, but instead falls into bed, admiring Ramona as she slumbers...


In this chapter Ramona seems to take a genuine interest in Moses and his troubles, establishing herself as a secure force in his life - perhaps the only hope he has so far as a human connection is concerned. Moses, for his part, buckles beneath his needs and explodes with feeling. Ramona's attentiveness gives him excuse to lance the wound. His return to that which he thought he fled marks another step in his recovery. We see now that it was not sexual slavery he was running from, but his own emotional vulnerability.

The "murderous" fury he feels towards Madeleine demonstrates a fullness of feeling we have not yet encountered in Herzog. This signifies his slow passage from depression into self-affirmation. It also foreshadows the scandal with the revolver, which will later play a major role in the narrative. Though our experience of this narrative is constantly framed by Moses' own thoughts, his own interiority, Bellow does, it should be noted, structure his fabula with conventional novelistic modalities; rhymes, echoes, and foreshadowings populate the story, suggesting an authorial presence beyond Herzog's own will. Who, one might wonder, is "writing" Moses' life?

Returning to the said narrative, Herzog's letter to Pulver helps further clarify his relationship to the concept of death. He argues passionately for seizing the moment and accepting death for what it is, rather than living in denial. The passage is significant because it highlights his own dilemma; it shows him struggling to push himself over his own mental hurdle. The death of his mother has traumatized Herzog. His failure to assert himself as a husband and a father is rooted in this void, a structuring absence that has endured for thirty years.

In his letter to Eisenhower, Herzog talks about the "inward lives" of Americans. He cites Hegel's idea that the "essence" of humanity stems from history. This explains his incessant reliving and consideration of memories throughout the novel. Meanwhile, his ongoing cultural-identity crisis is underlined when Ramona tells him that she does not perceive him to be American; he is, simply put, wounded by the comment. What is the "essence" of humanity if that humanity is defined by nationality? Through implication, Herzog's Jewish identity returns as something to consider; the problems stemming from the Jewish-American identity have provided Bellow with the thematic of much of his fiction, and Herzog is no exception.