Study Guide

Herzog Appearances

By Saul Bellow

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He remembered how much pleasure it gave Madeleine to try on clothes in shops and how much heart and pride there was in her when she looked at herself, touching, adjusting, her face glowing but severe, too, with the great blue eyes, the vivid bangs, the medallion profile. (1.134)

Herzog gets annoyed sometimes with the amount of time Madeleine spends on keeping up her appearance. But he's being a total hypocrite because her beauty is the main thing that first attracted him to her.

Valentine, furthermore, was exquisitely confident of his appearance. You could see it. He knew he was a terribly handsome man. He expected women—all women—to be mad about him. (1.121)

Herzog spends a lot of his time wondering about how handsome he is. His buddy Val, though, never worries at all. Even with his wooden leg, he's certain that he's God's gift to women and that all women should love him.

That mouth!—heavy with desire and irreconcilable anger, the straight nose sometimes grim, the dark eyes! And his figure!—the long veins winding in the arms and filling in the hanging hands, an ancient system, of greater antiquity than the Jews themselves. (1.138)

It's safe to say that Herzog reads a little too much into his physical appearance. Sure, we all worry about how we look now and then. But how many of us look at the veins in our arms and think of them as "an ancient system, of greater antiquity than the Jews"? Sheesh.

He could image that—Ramona laughing, talking, her shoulders bare in one of her peasant blouses (they were marvelous, feminine shoulders, he had to admit that), her hair in black curls, her face, her mouth painted. (1.140)

Herzog doesn't mind picturing himself at a party with Ramona as his date. After all, he finds her totally beautiful. What bugs him, though, is that Ramona is pursuing him when he (as a dude) thinks he should be the pursuer.

Those eyes might be blue, perhaps green, even gray—he would never know. But they were b**** eyes, that was certain. They expressed a female arrogance which had an immediate sexual power over him. (2.25)

When Herzog looks across a train platform and sees a beautiful woman, his gut instincts tell him that this woman is a "b****" because she has "b**** eyes." Talk about a metaphor for Herzog's poor judgment. The truth is that Herzog can't even see what the woman's eyes look like. He just forms an opinion about the woman's entire character without ever saying a word to her.

Grief greatly damaged—it positively wounded—Herzog's handsome face. Anyone he had ever injured by his conceit might now feel revenged to see how ravaged he looked. (2.229)

Herzog feels as though his lousy experiences in the past few years have ruined his appearance. Worse yet, he can picture all of his enemies rejoicing in the fact that he's become old and ugly.

Her face was gay and round, pink, the blue of her eyes was clear. Very different from the terrifying menstrual ice of her rages, the look of the murderess. (2.248)

Herzog knows he shouldn't mess with Madeleine when she gets really angry. There's something about the way she looks that terrifies him, something even scarier than what he thinks of as her "menstrual ice."

Legs brief and a little bowed but for that reason especially attractive. (3.5)

Herzog isn't going to find Ramona ugly just because her legs are a bit bowed. If anything, this little detail makes him even more attracted to her, either because it's unique or because it symbolizes (in his mind, at least) her sexual willingness.

The weight of her [Ramona's] face was mainly in the lower part. A slight defect, in Herzog's view. Nothing serious. (5.82)

Once again, Herzog's super judgmental eye finds a flaw in Ramona's appearance. But once again, he's willing to overlook the flaw because in his mind, it doesn't ruin the full effect of Ramona's beauty. Maybe if he could just admit to the fact that he likes Ramona's personality, he wouldn't have to agonize over every little detail of her appearance.

"You know what? The woman in the bakery told me yesterday I was looking so changed—my complexion, my eyes, she said. "Miss Donsell, you must be in love." And I realized it was because of you." (5.350).

Ramona is proud to say that her appearance has changed ever since she started hanging out with Herzog. Most people would think this was a romantic thing to say. But Herzog just wants to run the other way when he hears a word like "love" from Ramona.

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