Seize the Day: Novel Summary: Chapter II
Wilhelm collects his mail from the clerk at the hotel. In the mail is a bill for the hotel rent. Wilhelm feels angry with his father for not offering to pay the bill. He recalls an unsatisfactory conversation he had with his father soon after he moved in to the hotel. Wilhelm felt that he was being silently reproached for living in a hotel when he has a wife and two children in Brooklyn. The subject of his mother's death came up, and Dr. Adler got the year wrong, but Wilhelm decided not to make an issue of it. Wilhelm said that when his mother died, that was the beginning of the end, but Dr. Adler refused to get drawn into a discussion of what his son meant by this remark. What Wilhelm meant was that when his mother died, his father was set free, but he never said this directly.
Wilhelm reflects further on his life. His wife Margaret refuses to give him a divorce, and he has to support her and the children. In the mail he has just collected are bills she has sent him for the boys' educational insurance policies. His mother-in-law had taken out the policies, but after her death two years ago, the premiums became his responsibility. He resents his wife, believing that she knows he is in financial difficulty and is trying to get as much out of him as she can.
He enters the dining room and joins his father for breakfast. Dr. Adler introduces him to Mr. Perls, another resident in the hotel. Wilhelm does not enjoy the prospect of having breakfast with a stranger. He thinks his father is using Perls to avoid having breakfast with his son alone. For his part, Dr. Adler disapproves of his son's untidy appearance. In response to his father's inquiry, Wilhelm says he has not been sleeping well. Dr. Adler tells him not to take so many pills, but Wilhelm replies that it is noisy at night, and he complains that parking regulations mean that he has to keep moving his car. (He parks his old Pontiac on the street, since he no longer has an expense account which would enable him to put it in a garage.) Mr. Perls sympathizes with him, and makes his own complaints about some of the hotel residents.
Wilhelm takes a sedative and another pill, telling his father they are vitamin pills. Dr. Adler tells Perls that Wilhelm used to be with the Rojax Corporation as a sales representative. Wilhelm explains that he was with the company for ten years, but he left because they wanted him to share his sales territory with another salesman. He starts to explain his grievances against the company, but his father interrupts him and boasts about how much money he was making. Mr. Perls sounds impressed, and Wilhelm despises them both for the way they appear to worship money. He decides to stop talking and eat his breakfast. His father silently criticizes the way he eats. He remembers how he visited his son's room once and hated the untidiness and squalor of it.
Wilhelm goes back to talking about Rojax. He says he could go back with one of their competitors and take away the customers he had won for Rojax. His father rebukes him for wanting to start a feud, and tells him he should think about making a living and meeting his obligations. Wilhelm defends himself sharply, saying he has always met his obligations, without a penny of help from anyone. Mr. Perls offers some understanding remarks, but Wilhelm resents this discussion of his life. Mr. Perls suggests that he go to Florida to have a rest and think things over, and Wilhelm speaks vaguely of a trip to Cuba. He admits to his father that he is very tired, although what he is really thinking is that he is desperate for money.
The conversation turns to Dr. Tamkin. Dr. Adler wonders if he really is a medical doctor; Wilhelm explains that he is a psychologist. Dr. Adler regards Tamkin as a bit of a mystery, and says he would not trust him because he is a liar. He cannot possibly have invented all the things he claims to have done. Wilhelm tries to defend Tamkin, but Dr. Adler is not convinced. Tamkin may be a bit crazy, he says. He and Perls mention a couple of inventions that Tamkin has proposed, such as an underwater suit that would enable a man to walk on the bed of the Hudson River in case of an atomic attack. They laugh together at this, and Wilhelm joins in. But is not really amused. He is in despair because he has given Tamkin power of attorney over his last seven hundred dollars so that Tamkin can speculate with it on the commodities market. He would find out later that morning whether the price of lard had risen or fallen.
The main theme in this chapter is the materialism of society, as shown in Dr. Adler and Mr. Perls. Dr. Adler boasts about how much his son earned as a sales executive, and Mr. Perls is suitably impressed, speculating about what tax bracket this put Wilhelm in. He "named the figures not idly but with a sort of hugging relish," to which Wilhelm responds, "How they love money! Holy money! Beautiful money! It was getting so that people were feeble-minded about everything except money" (p. 41). The materialism of society means that the values of the heart are trampled on. Because everything revolves around money, Wilhelm is unable to establish the deep human connections that he longs for.
This is shown in his relationship with his father, which is extremely distant and even hostile. There is no affection between them, even though Wilhelm would love to be able to communicate with his father better. But Dr. Adler criticizes everything about him-his appearance, the way he eats, the number of pills he takes. He humiliates his son by correcting him in front of Mr. Perls. He also persists in calling him "Wilky" rather than Tommy.
Since he feels rejected by his father, Wilhelm's only hope is the mysterious Dr. Tamkin, but there are warning signs that his faith in his financial advisor is severely misplaced. But Wilhelm is not willing to listen. His situation is so desperate that he wants to believe in a savior.