Study Guide

Herzog Gender

By Saul Bellow

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"In Argentina they'd call you macho—masculine." (1.97)

Ramona sees right through all of Herzog's attempts to act modest. She knows that, deep down, he feels an intense pride that's connected to his sense of his own manliness. That's why he thinks of sex more as an accomplishment than something physically enjoyable.

She was thirty-seven or thirty-eight years of age […] and this meant she was looking for a husband. (1.108)

Herzog thinks he has women completely figured out, which is why he keeps his distance from Ramona. He's certain that any woman Ramona's age would be desperate to get married, even though Ramona never says or does anything to confirm this suspicion.

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 tends to imagine Ramona more than he listens to what she says. In other words, he thinks of Ramona as an attractive woman, which means he spends way more time projecting his personal thoughts onto her than he does letting her speak for herself.

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)

This passage is one of the most telling descriptions of Herzog you'll get in this entire book. For the first time in his life, Herzog has been treated like garbage by a woman (Madeleine). Now he has a deep suspicion toward all women who fill him with sexual urges because he hates the power that these women hold over him.

It must be very deep and primitive, the feeling people—women—have against a deceived husband, and I know now that you helped your niece by having Herman take me away to the hockey game. (2.29)

In the mind of Moses Herzog, women start to resent their husbands once they (the women) start having affairs with other men. He doesn't fully know why this is, but deep down, he thinks that Madeleine wants to destroy him.

Female deceit, though, is a deep subject. Thrills of guile. Sexual complicity, conspiracy. Getting in on it. I watched you bully Herman to get a second car, and I know how you can b****! (2.92)

Herzog is at his worst when he thinks about the ways that women deceive and manipulate men. In truth, he's probably just being paranoid. But it's impossible to tell how much of what he's saying is true and how much of it is paranoia.

Will never understand what women want. What do they want? They eat green salad and drink human blood. (2.94)

On some level, Herzog knows that he's ignorant about what women want. But instead of giving him an open mind, this realization just makes him think worse of women, thinking that they look prim and proper (eat salad) but are vicious animals deep down (drink human blood).

"I know Mady is a b****. And maybe you think I never wanted to kick Phoebe in the ass. That klippa! But that's the female nature." (2.231)

Like Herzog, Val Gersbach is certain that he has figured out what all women are like deep down. This unfortunate fact tends to steer the book as a whole toward a negative view of women, now that Herzog has a second person to confirm his prejudices.

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)

In case we hadn't gotten the point yet, Herzog has some pretty harsh things to say about women. For starters, he hates the way the can look so beautiful on the outside while being so cruel on the inside. The fact that he blames this evil on women's "menstrual ice" just goes to show how he thinks that even on a biological level, women are cruel.

"My boy's-name or my girl's-name?" (6.195)

Herzog has black-and-white ideas about what women are like and what men are like. But these ideas are thrown for a loop when Herzog enters a courtroom and sees a transgendered prostitute who offers sex as either a boy or girl, depending on what clients want. Herzog has based nearly all of his life judgments on the difference between men and women. So what's he supposed to do now that he's seen this teenager who claims to be both? Ideally, he'd just ignore this challenge to his ideas. But he can't.

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