Study Guide

Herzog Chapter 4

By Saul Bellow

Chapter 4

  • Herzog thinks about visiting his first ex-wife Daisy to pick up his son Marco. He figures that hanging out with someone he loves will help him. He prepares for the day to make sure he always has something to say to Marco.
  • Herzog resists the urge to go to a phone booth and dial the number of a woman named Sono Oguki. We'll find out who she is soon enough.
  • While lying in bed and trying to fall asleep, Herzog thinks about the first time he ever met Madeleine's parents. The meetings were pleasant enough.
  • Herzog's relationship with Madeleine was sexual from the start, even though Madeleine was a hardcore Catholic and an ambitious student. She had a way of pushing Herzog aside whenever they'd finished having sex, since she was eager to get back to her personal goals and values. Herzog remembers hating the way she always cast him off when she didn't need him anymore. But then again, was he any better? Didn't he drag her into the country for a whole year just to work on a book he never finished?
  • Herzog remembers begging Madeleine to have breakfast with him after a night of sex. It was always a struggle getting her to spend time with him.
  • When they finally agreed to eat together, Madeleine demanded that he not call her at her university anymore. She wanted to keep her personal goals and her love life separate. Ironically, these were the days when Madeleine was asking Herzog to get a divorce from his first wife, Daisy.
  • When Herzog challenges Madeleine's dependence on her religion, she reminds him about her horrifying childhood. It's sometimes difficult for her to keep herself together, and if religion helps she's more than happy to use it.
  • Eventually, Madeleine left the church behind. Herzog got a divorce and the two of them married. Herzog bought them a vacation house in the Berkshires when Madeleine got pregnant. Unfortunately, Herzog was in such a rush that he ended up buying a money pit. He never had the house inspected and only found out after the fact that the place needed tons of work.
  • From that point on, Herzog spent nearly all his time either working on the house or keeping up with his academic work. He was so tired that he had nothing left for his relationship with Madeleine.
  • But the thing that bothered Madeleine the most was that Herzog would play his oboe whenever he needed a break from work. It was the sound of this sad instrument that would drive Madeleine to shut herself in the car and drive away to cool her head.
  • Whenever Madeleine would storm out, she'd calm herself down with a little retail therapy. But it all created a vicious cycle. The more Herzog annoyed her, the more money she'd spend. And the more money she spent, the more she'd force Herzog to work harder and annoy her.
  • Back in the present, Herzog walks down a New York street and sees one of his old playmates from childhood. But the man turns and runs the other way when he sees Herzog. Herzog is deeply hurt and writes a letter to the guy, whose name is Nachman.
  • Herzog met Nachman once in Europe, when Nachman was in crisis because his father-in-law had apparently taken his wife away and hidden her somewhere. Nachman's wife had a history of mental illness. The memory only makes Herzog think farther backward, remembering the days when an old rabbi used to give him and Nachman a hard time for being lazy students.
  • Herzog doesn't stop with his memories of Nachman. He goes back to his childhood in general, thinking about an old drunk who used to board with his family. He also thinks about his father, a man who'd been in the upper class of Russia before he was forced out of the country and became a failure in The United States. In Russia, Father Herzog had cheated the system by using fake I.D. papers. But once he got to America, he was forced to work for his money. And Old Man Herzog was never too good at this.
  • In America, Father Herzog eventually became an illegal liquor distributor during Prohibition.
  • Herzog remembers how devastated his mother was when she found out about the death of her brother Mikhail back in Russia. It's pretty clear that his childhood was filled with lots of sadness and frustration.
  • Maybe worst of all was the fact that Herzog's aunt Zipporah was crazy rich and didn't think too much of Father Herzog. She had made all her money after coming to America, meaning that she had worked hard for it. She also resented the way Father Herzog tried to raise his children with upper class educations when they didn't have any money. But before she got too nasty, she remembered that Mother Herzog's brother Mikhail had died and softened her tone.
  • Zipporah refused Father Herzog when he asks her for a loan. And history would prove her right for doing so, because Father wanted the money to run booze from Canada into the U.S. But then he got hijacked and beaten up. So he lost his investment and the family had to scramble again to keep things together.
  • As he writes his letter to Nachman, Herzog realizes for the first time that Nachman's wife must finally be dead. She had been suicidal for a long time, and Nachman probably turned and ran in the street because he couldn't bear to tell the news to Herzog.

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