Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
John J. Kelleher
Thesis Committee Member
Frank C. Stokes
Bellow's comic vision points to a compromise between the romantic notion that self-perfection is attainable and the pessimistic notion that man is ultimately impotent and thus destined to fail. Through Henderson, Bellow shows that although man does not--and ultimately cannot--completely free himself of somatic demands and limitations, he is nevertheless not defeated by them and thus not left a victim of emotionless observations.
Bellow draws upon four sources in Henderson's nature to create the humor in the novel and highlights Eugene Henderson as a comic hero by dramatizing that Henderson proves to be his own ironist. These sources can be subsumed under the general heading of the body's encumbrance of the spirit. The first is Henderson's highly affective nature which often forces him to act in contradictory and inconsistent ways. The second source of the comic lies in Henderson's unsophisticated manners and robust speech, his slang idiom, and the rugged humor which Henderson initiates, all of which tend to highlight the incongruity of a character rooted in the physical world seriously pursuing spiritual development. Thirdly, Bellow finds a source of comedy in Henderson's exaggerated sense of fate, in his obsession with personal misfortune and mortality. His relentless brooding and rebellion against life's terms ultimately take on a comically rigid and incongruous quality in terms of the uncommon advantages and material wealth that Henderson enjoys. The fourth and most important source of comedy stems from Bellow's ironic dramatization of Henderson's concerted attempts to deny the inescapable needs and desires of physical being. This denial becomes as comic as Henderson's gigantic body itself, in that his body repeatedly demands to be recongnized. Bellow makes unmistakably clear, nevertheless, that Henderson's move toward accommodation encompasses both and awareness and acceptance of his spiritual and somatic being directly in relation to the demands of reality in a physical world.
Russo, George William, "Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King: A Fusion of the Comic and the Serious" (1979). Masters Theses. 3156.