The Old System

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Saul Bellow, The Old System

‘The Old System' is, by no means a simple story. Even though at first sight we are blinded by the superficial facts, after reading it a couple of times the simplicity of the action reveals its hidden features. It is a story about the integration of the Jewish in the American society; it is also a story about life and death but, above all, it is a story about emotions. Regarding structure, the story is told in third person by a narrator who tells the events as seen or remembered by a character. The language used by Bellow is simple. The major part of the story is formed by many short and, sometimes, incomplete sentences and phrases. However, those few words are enough to understand what is going on: "Winter. Saturday. The short end of December" (Bellow, 301) If we read these three seemingly incomplete phrases, we can immediately figure out the setting of the story, there is nothing missing. It is interesting to note that the short sentences are used more commonly to describe the environment but, more important, to describe feelings and thoughts; whereas the longer and more complete sentences are used to narrate the actions. I think what the author is trying to portray with this narrative technique is the nature of the characters' feelings and thoughts: they are not structured or planned but they just burst into the mind like flashing images. Through the memories of Dr. Braun we get bits of (his) reality: sensations, odours, images. In the next lines we can clearly see the difference between the narration of events and the representation of thoughts and feelings: "He was alone in his apartment and woke late, lying in bed until noon, in the room kept very dark, working with a thought – a feeling: Now you see it, now you don't. Now a content, now a vacancy. Now an important individual force, a necessary existence; suddenly nothing. A frame without a picture, a mirror with missing glass." (Bellow, 301) Another important aspect of the...
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