Study Guide

Herzog Family

By Saul Bellow

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To his son and his daughter he was a loving but bad father. To his own parents he had been an ungrateful child. (1.27)

Herzog knows that he hasn't always been the best family man. He loves his children deeply, but doesn't act like it. And he was always a neglectful child while his parents were still alive. At the end of the day, the guy's self-obsession is what keeps him from connecting with people the way he wants to. He has no one to blame but himself.

"But Madeleine is a good mother. And you don't have to worry. She doesn't run around with men." (2.89)

Aunt Zelda is quick to tell Herzog that Madeleine is a good mother to his daughter June. It's not as if Madeleine is seeing all kinds of men now that Herzog is gone. Her first priority is June, which it should be (at least in Aunt Zelda's mind).

Delighted, Moses began to grin. His face wrinkled tenderly at the thought of his children. How well kids understand what love is! (2.159)

Herzog thinks that children are really good examples of how a person should behave in a family. Unlike adults, children have a straightforward kind of love when they're young. They love their parents unconditionally, and it's only when they grow into adults that the idea of love gets complicated, as Moses Herzog so painfully finds out.

Marco was entering an age of silence and restraint with his father. (2.159)

And here comes adolescence. Yup, now it's time for Herzog's son Marco to become a teenager and to speak less and less to his father. Growing up means coming into contact with all kinds of new ways of looking at the world, and this can often lead a person to spend more and more time with their own thoughts. It looks like Herzog himself never outgrew this phase, though.

Phoebe had only one business in life, on aim, to keep her husband and protect her child. (2.204)

Phoebe Gersbach values the preservation of her family way more than the preservation of her self-esteem. She's willing to do whatever it takes to keep her family together, and that means looking the other way on her husband's cheating with her friend Madeleine.

Moses loved his relatives quite openly and even helplessly. His brother Willie, his sister Helen, even the cousins. (3.42)

Moses thinks that his love for his family is childish for someone his age. As you get older, it's common for you to see less of your family and to grow apart. But Moses still loves his family (even his cousins) with the kind of desperate love a little boy feels for his mother.

"I told you last week but you must've been thinking of other things. If you get sick, have an accident, lose an eye, even if you go nuts, Junie will be protected." (3.107)

Herzog knows that even with everything that's happened to him, he needs to be rational and to do what's best for his daughter June. And that means taking out a life insurance policy that will make sure she's taken care of if he dies.

The child would not reject his well-meant gift. There was love in that, thought Herzog. (4.6)

Herzog knows that even though his gifts aren't always great, his child will always accept them. That's because his child's love is still at the point where it never wavers, even when Herzog does something dumb or selfish.

"Spending your dead father's money. Dear Daddy! That's what you choke on. Well, he was your father. I don't ask you to share my horrible father. So don't try to force your old man down my throat." (4.140)

Madeleine is sick and tired of Herzog talking about his troubled upbringing whenever he makes excuses for being selfish. In her mind, it's time for him to take personal responsibility.

He was afraid of his own sanity, living like this, especially after the death of Daisy's father. Moses thought he saw him, met him in the woods, and when he opened doors he encountered his father-in-law, vivid and characteristic, waiting by a table or sitting in the bathroom. (4.159)

It's weird, but Herzog thinks he sees Daisy's father even after the man has died. Herzog wasn't especially close to the man, but father figures tend to stick out in Herzog's mind. This is probably because he had such a complicated relationship to his own father growing up.

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