- The Victim (novel)
:"For the 1980 martial arts comedy film, see
The Victim (film). For other uses, see Victim."Infobox Book
name = The Victim
language = English
publisher = The Vanguard Press (first edition)
release_date = 1947
media_type = Print (Hardback &
preceded_by = "Dangling Man"
followed_by = "The Adventures of Augie March"
"The Victim" is a novel by
Saul Bellowpublished in 1947. It is his second work. Along with his first novel " Dangling Man", they are considered Bellow's "apprentice works", before he unleashed his true literary voice in " The Adventures of Augie March". Looking back at his first two novels later in his career, Bellow "distanced himself from them by calling "Dangling Man" his M.A. and "The Victim" his Ph.D." [saulbellow.org Summary of "The Victim"]
Like many other Bellow stories, the protagonist is a
Jewishman in early middle age. Leventhal lives in New York City. While his wife is away on family business, Leventhal is haunted by an old acquaintance who unjustly claims that Leventhal has been the cause of his misfortune. The story explores the men's evolving relationship, all while Leventhal is struggling to deal with his own family problems.
Asa Leventhal's wife Mary has left the city for a few weeks in order to help her elderly mother move from
Baltimoreto her old family home in the South. While she is away, Leventhal must take on many tasks of caring for himself which his wife would ordinarily undertake for him. The action of the story begins when Leventhal is at his job as a copy-editor and receives a frantic phone call from his sister-in-law. She tells him that his nephew is terribly ill and that she desperately needs his assistance. During their conversation we learn that Asa's brother Max is a negligent husband and father who has practically abandoned his wife and two sons for itinerant work in Texas. His family subsists on the money he sends to them.
On his way to his brother's apartment, Leventhal reflects on the annoyance of being disturbed at work and the shameful treatment which Max is visiting upon his young family. But these reflections quickly take on a tone of self-reproach as Leventhal briefly admits to himself that he has allowed his obligation to this extended family to lapse inexcusably. Throughout the novel, Leventhal flirts with the possibility of widening his arc of responsibility to include humans other than himself and his wife. Usually, however, he finds a way to preserve his positive image of himself and to shirk responsibility for others.
This theme is expanded one evening when Leventhal, while walking in the park, is abruptly confronted by a man whose face he is unable immediately to place. Slowly, through conversation and subterfuge, the stranger reveals himself to be an old acquaintance named Kirby Allbee. During this exchange Allbee, whom Leventhal regards with a mixture of alarm and pity, alternates between polite repartee and incoherent or oblique references to their mutual past. Leventhal gradually realizes that the man is hostile and that he is under the impression that Leventhal is responsible for Allbee's having lost his job at some point in the past. The accusation mystifies Leventhal, who is unable to remember any of the details to which Allbee refers.
After trying briefly to understand the nature of the charge, Leventhal concludes that the man is simply drunk. This judgment is strengthened when Leventhal recalls that Allbee was usually intoxicated when they were acquainted. Later on in his apartment, while reflecting on this strange confrontation in the park, Leventhal recalls dimly that Allbee had once made some
anti-semiticremarks at a party. Allbee had been drunk and his insults had been directed at another friend of Leventhal's, Dan Harkavy. Most of what Allbee says to Leventhal through the rest of the book is laced with anti-semitic innuendo or outright insult.
Allbee confronts Leventhal several more times over the following weeks and it is revealed that in recent years Allbee has led a life of dissipation and poverty. The loss of his job, his wife's subsequent decision to leave him and her ultimate death in an auto accident all converged and left him without any resources. Allbee repeatedly accuses Leventhal of having ruined Allbee's life in an act of vengeance. When Leventhal wonders about what sort of revenge Allbee thinks motivated the alleged act, we learn that Leventhal was once recommended (by a mutual acquaintance) for a job at Allbee's firm. The interview was a disaster and its memory continues to rankle Leventhal as one of his more shameful moments of bad temper. As Leventhal and Allbee go over the facts of the episode, Leventhal grasps Allbee's interpretation of the events. He believes that Leventhal held a grudge over the anti-semitic remarks that Allbee had made at the party and that as an act of revenge, he behaved badly during the job interview in order to make Allbee (who had recommended him for the job) look bad.
Leventhal's response is mixed. He begins by dismissing the accusation out of hand but ends by trying to explain his behavior during the interview to himself. This sets off a long period of painful introspection for Leventhal about his responsibility to others and a dawning awareness of his need to develop a more peaceful and open-minded view of other people.
Interwoven with his struggles with Allbee are Leventhal's uneasy interactions with the family of his brother Max. After his initial visit to their lowly apartment, Leventhal is convinced that Max has neglected his young wife and children unconscionably and he resolves to give Max a piece of his mind. Leventhal convinces his sister-in-law to allow her son to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. When the young boy takes a turn for the worse, Max returns to the city just at the time of his son's death.
Bellow uses the twin events of the death of Leventhal's nephew and the jarring conflict with Allbee to portray a period of self-examination and growth in the life of the protagonist. By the time his wife Mary returns at the end of the novel, Leventhal has softened up, released some of his childhood fears of isolation and betrayal and is described as looking years younger. The end of the book includes a brief chance meeting between Leventhal and his old tormentor Allbee. The latter's fortunes have reversed apparently: he is dating a
Hollywoodactress and is richly attired. Allbee hails Leventhal who is reluctant to revisit their old quarrels. But Allbee is as persistent as ever but with a difference. He apologizes for his past rudeness and comes close to asking Allbee's forgiveness. This raprochement appears to be more a function of the increase of Allbee's good fortune than a result of true enlightentment. They part from each other politely as the novel closes.
* [http://www.saulbellow.org/NavigationBar/TheLibrary.html#victim Summary of The Victim on saulbellow.org]
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