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The modification of reality in the novels of Saul Bellow

Glenday, Michael Kinnear (1985) The modification of reality in the novels of Saul Bellow. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94370) (KAR id:94370)


This thesis is an enquiry in to the novels of Saul Bellow, with a particular view to revaluing the author's relationship with the dominant ideological influences which condition the reality of American culture. The thesis challenges the commonly-held belief amongst Bellow's critics that his fiction consistently articulates and affirms the philosophical principles of the humanist ethic . Such an ethic holds, especially, that the amelioration of man can be achieved by having recourse to the ideals of dependence and community; that the endeavour to acquire ontological knowledge can be sustained within a secular province; and that the survival of humane sensibility can only be accomplished by an acceptance of mutual human responsibility . This dissertation finds that such an argument falsifies Bellow's vision, and it concludes that the heroes of his fiction, and the drama of forces in which they have their being, should more properly be understood as expressions of the author's lack of faith in the humanist ideal. Bellow's heroes ultimately seek their fulfillment in various states of privacy and in withdrawal from an American community which is inimical to the free expression of spiritual and emotional matters. They seek a reality which takes full account of human potential. Increasingly, this aspiration has found them resorting to metaphysical or mystical imperatives.

The thesis is straightforward in organization, devoting a chapter to each of Bellow's nine novels together with a short introductory chapter. There is also an Afterword which includes discussion of selected short stories by Bellow. Within each chapter the consideration of the novel in question is preceded "by a survey of critical opinion about that novel. This progressive definition of the critical consensus is necessary in order to demonstrate the extent to which the thesis challenges and seeks to refute that consensus. It follows that the thesis is largely exegetical in nature, though throughout there is a fundamental effort to show how a detailed consideration of Bellow’s novels can lead us to what Henry James once called 'the deepest quality of a work of art'. This, he thought, would always be 'the quality of the mind of the producer'. In Saul Bellow's case this quality is very pure indeed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Lee, Bob
Thesis advisor: Carabine, Keith
Thesis advisor: Claridge, G. Henry
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94370
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: American literature, Saul Bellow, novels
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2023 14:19 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2023 14:19 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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