When Bellow was nine his family moved to the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago the city that was to form the backdrop of many of his novels. " Bellow's protagonists in one shape or another all wrestle with what Corde (Albert Corde the dean in "The Dean's December") called "the big-scale insanities of the 20th century. ) Bellow celebrated his birthday in June although he may have been born in July (in the Jewish community it was customary to record the Hebrew date of birth which does not always coincide with the Gregorian calendar).
Bellow grew up as an insolent slum kid a "thick-necked" rowdy and an immigrant from Quebec. " This transcendence of the "unutterably dismal" (a phrase from Dangling Man) is achieved if it can be achieved at all through a "ferocious assimilation of learning" (Hitchens) and an emphasis on nobility. In the words of the Swedish Nobel Committee his writing exhibited "the mixture of rich picaresque novel and subtle analysis of our culture of entertaining adventure drastic and tragic episodes in quick succession interspersed with philosophic conversation all developed by a commentator with a witty tongue and penetrating insight into the outer and inner complications that drive us to act or prevent us from acting and that can be called the dilemma of our age.