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Saul Bellow

Summary and Analysis Part VI

The pace of the action picks up dramatically in this section. Herzog's "heart" is no longer merely a subject about which he is confused; now his "heart" is about to drive him toward a violently dangerous situation. When he is with Ramona, he is able to enjoy simple sensual pleasures — kissing, looking at flowers, smelling clean air after a rainstorm. But when he is alone again, he feels desperate, jealous, and aching for revenge. He is frightened about his daughter's future and, at the same time, is a comical intellectual suffering over his failures and a cuckold who cannot accept his past. Herzog is staggered by the many identities that are contained within himself. He suffers under the burden of his chaotic, contradictory needs. As a private person, he is still vainly pursuing a definable system of coherence. Who is Herzog? Can he be defined by his two divorces, his two children, and his large unfinished manuscript? If his life has been only a series of failures, does this chance for success depend on destroying Valentine?

In Part V, Herzog found temporary peace in Ramona's apartment. When he is in his own apartment, however, his mind must struggle to maintain its sanity. Bellow draws an evocative analogy between Herzog and the water perking in the coffee pot. His repeated pattern has been to suffer and then seek release in sexual intercourse. Now that he has left Ramona, therefore, his suffering again "boils" in his mind. How can he discover what is real about himself? What is "the truth" about Herzog?

The telephone conversation with Mady's lawyer, the Machiavellian Simkin, shows us that Herzog knows that he must define himself, but that he is still incapable of such a feat. Simkin, of course, finds Herzog's obsession with truth ridiculous. To Simkin, searching for the truth is a waste of time; to him, the truth seems to be that Herzog's venomous feelings toward Gersbach will destroy him. Thus Part VII is foreshadowed.

If Herzog is contemplating revenge, we must consider the matter of justice; from what we know about Herzog, will he be justified? Bellow shows us in this section some examples of justice. It seems to Herzog that there has been a lack of justice in his own life. And isn't justice too often defined by cold, abstract laws? Shouldn't justice be a matter of the heart? Herzog is enlightened by the actual scenes of justice which he witnesses: the case of the mugger, that of the homosexual, the incident of the young male prostitute, and that of the lovers who have murdered a child. The protagonist is surprised to recognize kindness in a policeman's face. When the homosexual appears, Moses discovers that the seemingly impersonal judge is also capable of compassion. If justice is considered objectively, as Herzog has been trying to do, it often seems cold and corrupt. But when the shell of external appearances has been penetrated, Herzog finds human qualities in what had seemed non-human or inhuman. This is evidence that the heart does endure in the midst of crime, injustice, and perversion. The young bisexual prostitute boldly declares that his degeneracy and the judge's authority are both based on prostitution. The boy exemplifies the theory of transcendence, for he believes that even he can possess truth and honor. He is an admitted prostitute, but he is not a hypocrite. Herzog wonders about his own hypocrisy. The details of his life at the age of sixteen remind him that it was at that age that he began to be obsessed with intellectual study and antiquity — the delusion that he could restore human sanity and order. Through his orientation with his past, Herzog sees into his own deceptions; he realizes the truth of what the prostitute says about human hypocrisy. Not even Herzog is immune.

Herzog's "burning heart" is symptomatic of his spiritual condition; he has witnessed evils which he thought were alien to his nature. Yet he too is poisoned. Even he is struggling within himself between love and hate, between compassion and the desire to murder.