While a hero is traditionally a fortunate individual of superhuman power or spirit, an anti-hero is by definition the opposite of a hero and is thus a person who is neither strong nor purposeful. An anti hero may be portrayed as having little control over events, seeming aimless or confused, or as being out of step with society.
Tommy Wilhem, the protagonist of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is an anti-hero. He does not have Herculean strength nor has he Achillean prowess, nor does he has the sky kissing magnanimity of a Shakespearean tragic hero. As a result failure shapes his future. He seems to drift through his life, making poor decisions that remove him farther and farther from his family and friends, and he feels like an outsider in the city of his birth.
Tommy stumbles and dwindles at every step. He is a dangling man. In Seize the Day, Tommy, being caught in an existential crisis, is in quest of identity or meaningful existence. He is engaged seriously in a struggle for survival. He fails, he suffers, and he is spurned (rejected). He is turned into a puppet at the hands of scrubby opportunist. His hope is ever crossed and his mind suffers the stings of torments.
Tommy is hardly attractive. He is large-“fair-haired hippopotamus!- in his middle forties. He is even filthy-“What a dirty devil son of mine” thinks his aged father Dr. Adler. His dress-up style of talking and taking food reveals his flaws. He exhibits symptom of neurosis and his actions ad attitudes are symptomatic of his lack of control or loss of order of his being.
Tommy is too much emotional and childish and these very features make him dependent on others. Being unable to solve his problems, he rushes to his father for substantial support and he gets nothing but rebuff. Dr. Adler likes to appear affable. Affable! His own son, his one and only son could not speak his mind or ease his heart to him.” This is also the reason that he gives Mr. Tamkin the power of attorney to deal with his last survival without knowing him perfectly.
The modern dilemma “to be or not to be” is present in Tommy’s character. He seems to be a genius in bringing calamity upon him. He has always chosen the path that his intuition or intellect warned against. Thus invites bad consequences upon himself.
“This was typical of Wilhem. After much thought and hesitation and debate he invariably took the course he had rejected innumerable times. Ten such decisions made up the history of his life. He had decided that it would be a bad mistake to go to Hollywood, and then he went. He had made up his mind not to marry his wife, but ran off and got married. He had resolved not to invest money with Tamkin and then had given him a check.
Tommy’s queer inability to stick to a well thought decision is the prime cause in turning his life miserable, precarious. Tommy is a simpleton and believes everyone. His foolish investment with Dr. Tamkin is reminiscent of the investment of his career some twenty years earlier with a movie talent scout called Maurice Venice.
In Seize the Day the alienated hero is a terribly oppressed individual and it is with the feeling of his oppression that the fiction begins. The non-human, diabolic forces of materialism pose serious menace to overthrow him and subdue or demolish his human traits. Tommy Wilhem journeys through chaotic situations, through a metropolis (city) of peril (danger); he fights a solitary battle against what is annihilating for mankind.
Despite all these, Tommy is a hero, as he possesses something noble and magnanimous. Despite all circumstances of oppression, despite the violence and threat of being overthrown, Wilhem decides to retain humanity. He refuses to become a heartless money-thirst maniac. Tommy is placed in a perplexing situation of making a choice between humanity and heartlessness. Though he sees nothing but a bleak future before him, he decides to retain humanity, admits love and longs to have a place in the human community.
Unlike the mythic hero, there is no joyful homecoming for Tommy, or a satisfied sense completion of a mammoth task. HE neither has the superhuman dimensions of Shakespeare’s unforgettable tragic heroes. So, from all these aspects we can call him an anti-hero.