Study Guide

Herzog Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Saul Bellow

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

The Shadow Stage

Moses Herzog begins this book with a lot on his mind. He's in a pretty dark place: he's living in the shadow that's been cast by his divorce from his second wife Madeleine, as well as his general sense of failure in life. He hangs out alone and writes obsessive, anxious letters to people both living and dead. Pro-tip: don't write letters to dead people if you want to seem like you have your life together.

These letters all express his sadness for having turned into such a disappointment. He is almost fifty, has been divorced twice, and has a dying career. It's tough for him to imagine that his life could ever be meaningful.

Things Seem Okay

A ray of light comes into Herzog's life with the arrival of Ramona, a student of Herzog's who badly wants to be with him. She is educated, opinionated, and beautiful. She's pretty much Herzog's dream girl, but Herzog keeps his distance because he's been divorced twice and is worried about rushing into a third marriage. Still, it's nice to have someone like Ramona paying so much attention to him at such a bad time in his life. If nothing else, Ramona gives his busted ego a nice Band-Aid and some TLC.

Return of Shadow/Living Death

Not so fast, Moses Herzog. Did you really think things would start looking up only one third of the way into your story? Instead of settling down with Ramona and being happy, Herzog gets a hankering for some serious revenge. He calls his lawyer Simkin to ask whether there's anything he can legally do to make his ex-wife Madeleine's life a living hell. Simkin says Herzog could sue for custody of his daughter June, but it would cost a ton of money. But Herzog seems willing to bankrupt himself if it means sticking it to his ex.

The Dark Power Triumphs?

Herzog travels to Chicago to visit his ex Madeleine, despite the fact that there's a restraining order out against him. He stops by his stepmother's house to pick up his father's old gun before heading to his ex's, and it looks like he intends to murder Madeleine and her lover, Val.

He does the right thing and abandons the plan (phew), but bad news strikes again when he gets into a car accident and gets booked for carrying a loaded gun without a permit. He calls his brother Willie to bail him out of jail, and it looks like Herzog has hit rock bottom. Willie wants him to seriously consider checking into a mental hospital.

Miraculous Redemption

Instead of going to an asylum, Herzog retreats to his secluded house in the Berkshires and spends the week writing fake letters to people and thinking about his life. This seems like a recipe for psychotic disaster… a writer, alone in the woods, with murder on his mind? Heeeere's Moses.

But—crazily enough—the R&R does him good. He writes fewer letters as the week goes on, and then one day, he stops altogether and pays more attention to the world around him instead of the world inside his head. Better yet, his devoted admirer Ramona tracks him down. He invites her over for dinner and ends the book cleaning his house and trying to make things nice for her. It looks like Herzog has gotten through a difficult time and is ready to be happy again.

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