Bellow evokes all the rich colour and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson's awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life earns him the admiration of the tribe - but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah. A hilarious, often ribald story, HENDERSON THE RAIN KING is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life.
Saul Bellow and American Transcendentalism explores Saul Bellow's moral and philosophical affinity with the writers of American transcendentalism, especially Emerson and Whitman. Its focus is on the «vintage» Bellow, or his «mature» novels, from Henderson the Rain King (1959) to The Dean's December (1982). In these novels, Bellow highlights a moral crisis, arising from humankind's despiritualization and dehumanization, which, he believes, is responsible for an ongoing dichotomy in the modern world. Bellow describes this as a dichotomy of the «Cleans» and the «Dirties», in the context of American culture. To rectify this dichotomy and redeem humankind from its current «death-ridden» state, Bellow and his protagonists advance a vision of life that corresponds to the transcendental vision of dialogue and «double consciousness», or coordination and balance. Like Emerson, they advocate, «The mid-world is best... A man is a golden impossibility; the line he must walk is a hair's breadth». Comparable to Whitman, they urge the individual to «knit the knot of contrariety» and act as «an arbiter of the diverse».
Intended for teachers and students of American Literature, this book is the first comprehensive analysis of romantic tendencies in postmodernist American fiction. The book challenges the opinion expressed in the Columbia History of the American Novel (1991) and propagated by many influential scholars that the mainstream of postmodernist fiction is represented by the disjunctive and nihilistic work of such writers as Kathy Acker, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Coover. Professor Alsen disagrees. He contends that this kind of fiction is not read and taught much outside an isolated but powerful circle in the academic community. It is the two-part thesis of Professor Alsen's book that the mainstream of postmodernist fiction consists of the widely read work of the Nobel Prize laureates Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison and other similar writers and that this mainstream fiction is essentially romantic. To support his argument, Professor Alsen analyzes representative novels by Saul Bellow, J.D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Flannery O'Connor, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, the later John Barth, Alice Walker, William Kennedy, and Paul Auster. Professor Alsen demonstrates that the traits which distinguish the fiction of the romantic postmodernists from the fiction of their disunctive and nihilist colleagues include a vision of life that is a form of philosophical idealism, an organic view of art, modes of storytelling that are reminiscent of the nineteenth-century romance, and such themes as the nature of sin or evil, the negative effects of technology on the soul, and the quest for transcendence.
Pifer contends that Bellow's fiction is fundamentally radical. Going against the grain of contemporary culture and its secular pieties, he undermines accepted notions of reality and challenges the "orthodoxies" created by materialist values and rationalist thought. Charged by his belief in the soul, his 10 novels test the assumptions of traditional realism. Pifer stresses the importance to Bellow of the invisible world, the longing for revelation, and the capacity to love and to suffer. She also shows how Bellow's hero is a man torn between his modern predilection for secular rationalism and a primordial attachment to the soul, and how he is led to demolish reigning idols of contemporary thought and culture. ISBN 0-8122-8203-5: $29.95.