Book Review: Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

Dangling Man (Penguin Classics): Bellow, Saul, Coetzee, J. M. ...

The text of “Dangling Man” unfolds in the form of a diary. The story follows the complicated psychology of Joseph, the Jewish protagonist, who resigned and waits to enlist during World War II. Joseph had planned to use the delay in enlistment to relax and enjoy his freedom before joining the army. Joseph had no peace of mind. He stayed indoors all day long, lost in his own inner world. Joseph peeks into the world through the closed room, the emotional catharsis in the diary, at the same time record the emotional changes and the world. He did not know who he was, could not find a place in society, and gradually became a lonely patient rejected by his family and abandoned by his friends. Joseph had to talk to his alter ego, the surrogate elf. Joseph swung back and forth between the ideal and the reality, with loneliness and bewilderment constantly attacking him. He even began to doubt about family, marriage, friendship and future, and finally became a dangling man free from the society.

The heroes in Bellow’s works all have good wishes for a better life and the meaning of life. It is the consistent ideal of Bellow’s heroes to pursue perfect self and then perfect social life. However, life rewards them with hurt again and again, so they choose to flee. An inescapable paradox lies between their search and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the lofty role of helping the world and saving the world, in real life they are victims. The eternal contradiction between ideal and reality is reflected in them vividly. No matter how good they are in their professional fields, they are extremely clumsy in real life. Although Bellow’s heroes also persistently pursue their own ideals, they are fundamentally different from the traditional heroes. The traditional heroes leave behind a noble beauty of tragedy with arduous struggle, final failure, and destruction while the hero of Bellow leaves behind a paradoxical color.

-Coreen C.

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