Friday, July 7, 2017

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

This was Bellow’s first novel.
It is set in Chicago during WWII.
The character, Joseph, writes about his life in first person journal entries. He is in his 30s. He is dangling because he might get drafted into the army soon. Since he might be drafted he is not working. He is married and his wife is working. He is basically just hanging out. They are living in a rooming house.They lost their apartment because of a dispute he had with the landlord.

It is a short novel of one of those extended times between things, before something big might happen. In this case being called up into a war that one might get killed in. The novel is mostly internal dialogue of someone in one of these in between times, and a very stressful one. It is also a portrait of a man without an exterior structure to control his time and actions. It is a place that many find difficult to find comfort. It is easier to just let someone else tell one what to do, show up here, at this time, do this job for this long, eat at this time, etc. He is dangling outside of that structure for a time, that place where one has to be self motivated, or self contained enough to be at peace when the order of the day is to run with the crowd. The novel shows that this can be a difficult place where one needs to be very strong, assured of oneself enough to go on.

There is not much mention of the war.  A war, that at the time of the novel’s composition no one knows  what is going to happen, how long the war will go on, how many will die, or who will win. The book contains that tension that hangs right there alongside that dangling man. It is an extreme time of “we are all together” which can be harder than usual on the temperamentally alienated.
Joseph visits family. His prosperous brother tries to give him money which creates tension. He visits his wife’s family, more tension. There is conflict in the rooming house, and between him and his wife, in the role reversal of the man being the breadwinner.

Aren't we all dangling on the edge of life on the mysterious precipice of death?
What does one do while dangling?

Good novel from a man who was later awarded The Nobel Prize (The Dynamite Prize).

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