Saul Bellow Saul Bellow 's story "A Silver Dish" illustrates the skill of one of the greatest American authors of the twentieth century. The story spans a period from the middle of the Great Depression to the mids, showing the changes that time renders in both society and in one man's life. The main character, Woody Selbst, is one of Bellow's finest creations. A lonesome, successful businessman, Woody reminisces about the circumstances under which his father, a con man and thief, caused him to lose his scholarship to a seminary school, an act that redirected his entire life.
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One of the pleasures of writing these Letters from the Archive is uncovering hidden gems—great stories that, for whatever reason, have drifted out of the spotlight. It starts in the present, when its protagonist, Woody Selbst, is a successful businessman. But then it flashes back to the Great Depression, when Woody was a young seminary student.
In the contrast, you see fifty years of implied history. In the present, Morris is dying, and Woody, in mourning, is thinking about how their lives are woven together. Woody, a businessman in South Chicago, was not an ignorant person. Also he had travelled extensively in Japan, Mexico, and Africa, and there was an African experience that was especially relevant to mourning.
It was this: On a launch near the Murchison Falls in Uganda, he had seen a buffalo calf seized by a crocodile from the bank of the White Nile. There were giraffes along the tropical river, and hippopotamuses, and baboons, and flamingos and other brilliant birds crossing the bright air in the heat of the morning, when the calf, stepping into the river to drink, was grabbed by the hoof and dragged down.
Under the water the calf still threshed, fought, churned the mud. Woody, the robust traveller, took this in as he sailed by, and to him it looked as if the parent cattle were asking each other dumbly what had happened. He chose to assume that there was pain in this, he read brute grief into it. On the White Nile, Woody had the impression that he had gone back to the pre-Adamite past, and he brought reflections on this impression home to South Chicago.
He brought also a bundle of hashish from Kampala. In this he took a chance with the customs inspectors, banking perhaps on his broad build, frank face, high color. But he liked taking chances. Risk was a wonderful stimulus. He threw down his trenchcoat on the customs counter. But he got away with it, and the Thanksgiving turkey was stuffed with hashish. This was much enjoyed. That was practically the last feast at which Pop, who also relished risk or defiance, was present.
Joshua Rothman , the ideas editor of newyorker. More: Books Saul Bellow.
Letter from the Archive: Saul Bellow’s “A Silver Dish”
The story was first published in The New Yorker for 25 September, This story is essentially one of ethnic and religious allegiance. His father Morris is a non-believing Jew, and his mother is a Christian convert who has brought up her son Woodrow in an environment of evangelical proselytising. Woody appears to be religiously neutral—he respects his mother and is very sceptical about his father, who is a gambler, a womaniser, and a completely improvident parent.
A Silver Dish
Published by the New Yorker in , it is so worth the read. What do you do about death—in this case, the death of an old father? Take this matter of mourning, and take it against a contemporary background. How, against a contemporary background, do you mourn an octogenarian father, nearly blind, his heart enlarged, his lungs filled with fluid, who creeps, stumbles, gives off odors, the moldiness or gassiness, of old men. I mean! As Woody put it, be realistic.
A Masterwork Short Story: Saul Bellow’s “The Silver Dish”
One of the pleasures of writing these Letters from the Archive is uncovering hidden gems—great stories that, for whatever reason, have drifted out of the spotlight. It starts in the present, when its protagonist, Woody Selbst, is a successful businessman. But then it flashes back to the Great Depression, when Woody was a young seminary student. In the contrast, you see fifty years of implied history. In the present, Morris is dying, and Woody, in mourning, is thinking about how their lives are woven together. Woody, a businessman in South Chicago, was not an ignorant person.