Book Review: More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow

spacebeer: More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow (1987)

The protagonist Benn Crader is a botanist. He was famous for a while but had a very unsuccessful love life. After the death of his first wife, his emotional world lost its focus, and although he later married Matilda Layamon, his second marriage brought him little happiness. There is no real love between him and Matilda, only a relationship of exploitation. The main reason Matilda, a beautiful woman, married Benn was to use his academic achievements and scientific fame as a solid foundation for her social activities. However, the novel does not simply focus on the description of Benn’s emotion, but by depicting his embarrassing situation it shows the emotional exhaustion of the spiritual world in modern American society.

Intellectuals can grasp the essence of things under the surface and are willing to use their wisdom and superb skills to advise the public. Therefore, intellectuals are not only knowledgeable people, but they are also doers of social moral standards and pioneers of reform. Through the ages, they have maintained their intellectual identity in vain, even at the cost of their lives. The protection of intellectual identity has gradually become a kind of collective unconsciousness. Intellectuals fulfill and maintain their identity as spiritual leaders, but this identity is subverted by the impact of mass culture. Popular culture deprives intellectuals of their right to speak. They communicate through film, television, and other media new role models, value systems, and lifestyles that are unconsciously internalized by the masses. The common people were so absorbed in the convenience and diversity of popular culture that they were no longer interested in intellectual dogmas.

When the identity of intellectuals is questioned or even deprived, the group of intellectuals feels an unprecedented sense of loss. However, the helplessness of intellectuals is not completely caused by the isolation of the society; the internal differentiation of intellectuals greatly accelerates the disintegration of the intellectual group. Intellectuals do not know whether they have been assimilated into popular culture or whether their identity as intellectuals has been lost. In fact, in the materialistic modern society, intellectuals began to lose their spiritual integrity. In “More Die of Heartbreak”, Benn compromises with society when he cannot find true love. He becomes an impoverished intellectual who lacks independent survival ability and even an independent personality. He needs constant consultation with his nephew Kenneth to get affirmation before he can calm down.

-Coreen C.

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