Despite the fact that the protagonist Artur Sammler visits the past, present, and future in Saul Bellow's novel Mr. Sammler's Planet, Sammler is stuck spiritually and emotionally in a sort of "dead zone" which transcends time altogether. Because of the suffering he has witnessed and experienced, particularly in the Holocaust, Sammler has become a man for whom human feeling and spirituality is apparently inaccessible for the most part. Of course, we cannot blame Sammler for this condition, whether he chooses it or whether it is simply a survival mechanism. He is behaving in a way quite compatible with any individual who had undergone his horrific experiences.
As Sammler says to himself at a point halfway through the novel: "Too many inside things were ruptured. To some people, true enough, experience seemed wealth. Misery worth a lot. Horror a fortune. Yes. But I never wanted such riches" (141). It is not surprising to find that Sammler has different ways of responding to a life of such pain, and that he deals with his suffering in different ways which are related to his attitudes toward and reflections on the past, present and future. Of course, these time divisions are not so simple, for Sammler is an intelligent man with a still-agile mind which nimbly skips from past to future to present, again and again.
For example, he is remembering one moment about fighting in World War II and killing a man in order to live, an action from which he derives an eerie pleasure:
. . . To kill the man he ambushed in the snow had given him pleasure. Was it only pleasure? It was more. It was joy. You would call it a dark action? On the contrary, it was also a bright one. It was mainly bright. When he fired his gun, Sammler, himself nearly a corpse, burst into life (140).
Then, a paragraph later, he is fully involved in the present: "He got up. It was pleasant here---the lamplight, his own room. He had gathered a very pleasant sort o...