Dangling Man was the first novel published by Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow. It was published in 1944 by Vanguard Press, and which today is owned by Random House.
The novel forms a diary kept by Joseph for a one year: December 15 1942 through to April 9 1943. The very first entry begins with the caveat that although to keep a diary is not something that should be done - since one should not have or nurture inappropriate sentiments - Joseph nonetheless feels that he must keep a record, to express what it is like to be where he is at. Seven months previously Joseph quit his job after receiving a recruiting call from the army, but technicalities and paper-work mean that he's still waiting the actual day when he'll be enlisted... any day now.
Some men seem to know exactly where their opportunities lie; they break prisons and cross whole Siberias to pursue them. One room holds me. January 8
He is the dangling man, free, but without anything to push again; all his actions are for nothing. He can read books and go on walks, but his non-directed liberty tires him, and he becomes idle. He despises the way he's learnt to treat life and himself, inevitably forming barriers between himself and all the others who are not in his position.
I have always suspected of him that the had in some fashion discovered there were some ways in which to be human was to be unutterably dismal, and that all his life was given over to avoiding those ways. January 3
Others have suggested to me that Bellow tends to take liberty in his capacity as a writer, acting as a commoner philosopher. Maybe. Bellow is concerned with the unspectacular man, and especially (at least here) the educated man who feels alienated from everything around him. This, at least, I believe is authentic and something which Bellow can write about personally.
The worlds we sought were never those we saw; the worlds we bargained for were never the worlds we got. December 3
In terms of the novel's message: Bellows goes a bit heavy on the whole "we (qua modern man) cannot handle freedom and must shackle ourselves to live". I find that entire notion problematic, and perhaps even romantic. I'm not sure who Bellow is trying to pardon, and regardless I do not believe that we need authors to pardon our ways of life.
The quest, I am beginning to think, whether it be for money, for noteriety, reputation, increase of pride, whether it leads us to thievery, slaughter, sacrifice, the quest is one and the same. All the striving is for one end. I do not entirely understand this impulse. But it seems to me that its final end is the desire for pure freedom. we are all drawn toward the same craters of the spirit—to know what we are and what we are for, to know our purpose, to seek grace. And, if the quest is the same, the differences in our personal histories, which hitherto meant so much to us, become of minor importance. February 22