Moses Herzog's Confused Identity Essay

2032 words - 8 pages

Moses Herzog's Confused Identity

While Moses Herzog sits in the Chicago police station after he has crashed his rental car, the narrator of Saul Bellow's work exclaims angrily, "See Moses? We don't know one another" (299). This is the lone moment in the book where the narrator explicitly suggests some separation between himself and Herzog. Much of the rest of the novel provides an unclear division between the narrator and the main character. I would argue that this unclear division occurs because these two figures, the narrator and Herzog, are in fact the same person. There are small logistical hints in the text that this is true. But these small elements of the text exist alongside much larger similarities between Herzog, and the narrator. In the largest sense, the uncertainty, the subjectivity that the narrator evinces in telling Herzog's story shows just how similar he is to the character he is describing. In the end even the quote that began this paper, the remark that ostensibly creates the strongest division between the narrator and Herzog, is evidence that these two figures are really the same - that Herzog is really narrating his own story.

The most visible element of the book that suggests some conflation of the narrator and Herzog is the narrator's confused pronoun use for Herzog. On occasion, the narrator confusingly refers to Herzog not in the third person as "he" but instead in the first person as "I," seemingly adopting Herzog's voice. Some of the times that this happens, it seems a stylistic device, such as when the narration is given in Herzog's voice, directly after Herzog's letters. Herzog writes to Madeleine's mother Tennie, before thinking about what he has just written: "It's in the vault, in Pittsfield. Too heavy to lug to Chicago. I'll return it, of course. By and by. I never could hang on to valuables - silver, gold" (31) The narration here, that comes directly after the italicized words of a letter, is given in the first person voice from Herzog. The use of I, eliminates the need for the narrator to use the awkward phrase "he thought," when the identity of the thinker is quite clear.

But at many other places in the text, where the narrator uses the first person to convey Herzog's thoughts, the shift is not easily explained by stylistic concerns. The narrator goes along, consistently referring to Herzog in the third person, and then suddenly, in providing one of Herzog's thoughts or feelings, slips into the first person. The narrator makes one such shift on the midst of describing Moses' memories of Sono: "She went to run the water. He heard her singing as she sprinkled the lilac salts and bubble-bath power. I wonder who's scrubbing her now." (173).

In one place the narrator goes so far as to switch to the first person in the middle of a sentence for no immediately clear reason. After he has arrived on Martha's Vineyard, his host Libbie, and her husband Sissler are caring for him, "Sissler was trying to...

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