- End-Game:Terminal Configurations in Bellow's Novels
A terminal sense, a sense of an ending leads to a gathering of strands, focusing of attention, sedimentation of insights and perceptions as the characters seek a plateau to rest themselves on, a cliff to fall from, walls to be stopped by, a new path suddenly discovered to strike out through, or at last, tired, to trudge back home to rest. And the author wanders rapidly through the interior space of the narrative, tying loose threads into the web to complete it and discovering images, symbols, and ideas that he hopes are the distilled essences or end-products on which the narrative can rest. The terminal configuration is eloquent, creating distinctive designs and sense for the narrative and, sometimes, for the author; sometimes, too, for an ethnic or national group bound in time.
In each of Saul Bellow's novels, a last short journey to the terminal position is of great importance and is worked out with care and deliberation by the author. The journey is invariably in a changed direction. Joseph joins the army and leaves. Leventhal leaves Beard and joins Antique Horizons of Harkavy. Tommy leaves the Stock Exchange and ends up in a funeral parlor. Augie March after his wanderings and adventures has turned about and says: "I want . . . settled life." The "bondage of strangeness is only temporary," and he is sure he will "get out of it" (Augie March 515). Herzog [End Page 215] breaks away from the world and retreats to his old dilapidated house on "the edge of nowhere" (Herzog 329), which is his inheritance. And he firmly refuses Will's (and Helen's) suggestion that he receive psychiatric care: "'No,' said Moses, still shaking his head. 'No. Definitely.'" Henderson, Citrine, Sammler—all change directions at the end.
The last journey, the terminal segment, is often reinforced by a reductive sense which is more acutely presented as a sense of withdrawal from a wider world to an enclosed space, internal or external, that often becomes claustrophobic—as if there is a shrinkage of the enclosure. Often a last dark journey is made, at the end of which is a confrontation with death. Mr. Sammler's Planet is an excellent example of this pattern. Mr. Sammler reaches the hospital and insists on being taken to Elya, and the terminal journey begins:
They went down in the elevator, the gray woman and Mr. Sammler, and through lower passages paved in speckled materials, through tunnels, up and down ramps, past laboratories and supply rooms. Well, this famous truth for which he was so keen, he had it now, or it had him. He felt that he was being destroyed, what was left of him. He wept to himself. He walked at the habitual rapid sweeping pace, waiting at crossways for the escorting nurse. In stirring air flavoured with body-things, sickness, drugs. He felt that he was breaking up, that irregular big fragments inside were melting, sparking with pain, floating off. Well, Elya was gone. He was deprived of one more thing, stripped of one more creature. One more reason to live trickled out. He lost his breath. Then the woman came up. More hundreds of yards in this winding underground smelling of serum, of organic soup, of fungus, of cell-brew. The nurse took Sammler's hat and said, "In there." The door sign read. . . . post-mortem . . . Let's find out what went wrong. . . .
Sammler uncovered his face. The nostrils, the creases were very dark, the shut eyes pale and full, the bald head high-marked by gradient wrinkles. In lips bitterness and an expression of obedience were combined.(312-313)
It is clear that this is a threshold experience, and Mr. Sammler is going through the last threshold in his confrontation with death, led by a threshold angel. This last journey is a veritable symbolic or archetypal pool in the way Bellow effects concentration and convergences. It is a journey through a labyrinthine underworld of "lower passages" and "tunnels."
Mr. Sammler's last journey is painful. He weeps, and his pain, like a fresh wound welling drops of crimson blood, sparkles. This is...