Seize the Day: Novel Summary: Chapter V
Tamkin and Wilhelm go to the brokerage hall, which is crowded. They sit down. Tamkin has many acquaintances there, and he talks to everyone. Wilhelm sits between Mr. Rowland, who is elderly, and Mr. Rappaport, who is even older. Rowland has followed the market for years and makes money speculating in soy beans.
Wilhelm tells Tamkin he needs fifteen thousand dollars a year, after taxes, to meet his needs. Tamkin says that is not too much to expect, and Wilhelm can expect to make more than that figure. Wilhelm is comforted by this. Tamkin also tells him that he has invested in rye, and the price is already going up. He promises that lard will go up too. Wilhelm feels reassured, and for a moment he is at peace, thinking of his small yard out of the city. He resolves to get out of New York.
Tamkin goes off to talk to other people, and Wilhelm once more wonders about him. He wonders if Tamkin is a hypnotist, able to put people in a trance when he talks to them. He is attracted to Tamkin because he talks of things that matter, but he still does not trust him. He wonders how Tamkin has supported himself all these years, and asks himself many more questions about this mysterious figure. He think about how hard it is to communicate with anyone in New York, and starts to speculate about the deeper questions of life. He recalls a moment a few days ago when he had felt love for all humankind. It had not lasted for long and he quickly dismissed its importance, but now he recalls it and thinks he must get back to that state of mind, because it was a clue to the truth about life.
Old Mr. Rappaport, who is nearly blind, asks Wilhelm to read him the prices of wheat and soy beans. Wilhelm hopes the old man, who has made a lot of money in the chicken business, will give him some advice, but none is forthcoming. He tries to charm him, and Mr. Rappaport talks a little about chickens, but does not offer Wilhelm any tips about the market, which disappoints him.
Tamkin returns and tells him that rye has jumped in price, nearly enough to cover their loss on lard. Wilhelm wants him to sell now, so they can go out with just a small loss, but Tamkin refuses, saying that if they stay in, they will make a profit. Wilhelm fears that the price of rye will soon go down as fast as it is has gone up. Tamkin argues him out of it, to Wilhelm's frustration. Tamkin then gives him a lecture about living in the present.
There are several key moments in this chapter. The first is when Wilhelm reiterates how difficult it is to communicate with anyone in the city. There is no yardstick by which to judge and understand people. So many people live in their own world: "Every other man spoke a language entirely his own, which he had figured out by private thinking; he had his own ideas and peculiar ways." Every person is so much an individual, so different and so separate from others, that a man has to work extremely hard to create any kind of bridge to another consciousness. This is Wilhelm's situation writ large. He is alone with his troubles in this huge, impersonal city. The one man who should be able to help him, his father, refuses to do so. But then instinctively Wilhelm thinks beyond the small unit of the family and the impersonal crowd. He realizes that in spite of the surface realities of the city, "There is a larger body, and from this you cannot be separated." This larger body constitutes what Tamkin had called the real soul of everyone (as opposed to the pretender soul). Wilhelm then remembers an incident a few days ago, when he was in a subway tunnel: "[A]ll of a sudden, unsought, a general love for all these imperfect and lurid-looking people burst out in Wilhelm's breast. He loved them. They were his brothers and his sisters." In that moment, Wilhelm felt united with everyone around him. There was no sense of separation at all. Belonging to a larger human community was exactly what he needed, since he felt so isolated and cut off from real human feeling and love. Symbolically, it is significant that this moment takes place underground: Wilhelm has had to slip into a deeper level of the psyche to find this moment of transformational perception. Although it is fleeting, this moment foreshadows the end of the novel, when in his desperate need Wilhelm feels a sense of oneness with the dead man at the funeral.
Another key moment in this chapter concerns Tamkin. Wilhelm's feelings toward this magician of a man are ambivalent. Sometimes, as in his remarks about the real soul and the pretender soul, Tamkin give Wilhelm genuine insight into his situation, but his wisdom only goes so far. It has little practical use. This is shown vividly in the incident where Tamkin lectures Wilhelm about living in the present, even giving him some mental exercises to help him do so. But they do not help Wilhelm. The more Tamkin tells him to live in the present, the more he is mired in his memories of the past with Margaret. Tamkin appears to offer much, but he cannot rescue Wilhelm from the forces that are sweeping him to destruction.