Salinger appears to have departed from the traditional mode of narration here. Buddy actually introduces or presents Seymour's long letter with its account of his own psyche and his experiences at camp, and of his and Buddy's literary productions. First-person narration notwithstanding, there is such a degree of authorial self-indulgence in the story that Salinger seems not to have kept in mind the needs of his common readers. Seymour's discussion of his life and activities, his opinions and his arrogant "talking down" to his parents and siblings are all too preposterous to be taken at face value. Seymour's letter from camp does not even seem to represent wishful thinking, stream-of-consciousness fantasy, metafiction, or satire.
Warren French is also critical of the excesses and bombastic pretentiousness of the Seymour letter. He suggests that Salinger, because of his self-imposed isolation from the general public, had lost his touch and (just as when he had earlier mishandled a speaking engagement) had "gotten carried away by his own enthusiasm and [attendant] tensions," and could no longer handle his material. A more plausible explanation seems to be that Salinger knew his material all too well— since some of his own mystical philosophy was apparently transferred to his story characters—and felt that despite his popular success, the audience would never really understand what he was getting at, and therefore he might as well write to please himself,...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Hapivorth 16, 1924 and Salinger's other fiction published in book form have long resonated in the minds of readers, particularly adolescents, younger adults, and others sympathetic to the American "youth culture" of the post World War II period. They tend in general to reflect a mystique of the helpless child, and often the gifted child, who is seen as terribly vulnerable to danger. This child is a precious creature set aside for a special destiny, a precocious and charismatic young person possessing mysterious powers; he/she may soon meet death. This idea was interestingly foreshadowed in his first book The Catcher in the Rye (1951; see separate entry) through Holden Caulfield's speech to his young sister Phoebe. He describes his vision of "thousands of little kids" playing in a large rye field, with no large person around, except him, "standing on the edge of some crazy cliff," and it's up to him to catch them if they fall over the edge. This is the only thing he is compelled to do.
Herein lies the basis of Salinger's appeal to the sensitive "young at heart" of whatever age: a blend of fantasized heroics, the existentialist mystery of the precarious human condition, (implied) spiritual transcendence, an affinity for extreme situations, a kind of catharsis through the evocation of pity and terror, and a vicarious self-realization. The Holden Caulfield who expresses this "catcher in the rye" vision has a good deal in common with the...
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This narrative takes the form of a verbose, supercilious letter running to 28,000 words, supposedly written by a seven-year-old boy at camp, to his parents at home. The epistle, if it is to be taken at face value, shows the dangerous communication gap that develops between a precocious child and the average-minded parents, who may lack understanding of their child's statements, needs, and psychological danger signs. The letter also points up the likely difficulty such a wunderkind has in trying to adjust to a world not inclined to receive its enlightenment and guidance from the mouths of babes. This specimen of premature intellectual advancement refers to his periodic "appearances" on earth, as well as to his unhealthy mental condition referenced in examples such as: "a vein of instability" running through him "quite like some turbulent river," his having "left this troublesome instability uncorrected in [his] previous two appearances," and his self-reference to his parents as "your crazy son, Seymour Glass." All this in addition to his prophesying his eventual death and that of his five-year-old brother Buddy, after they "have fulfilled [their] opportunities and obligations"; he gives his "word that [they] will depart in good conscience and humor for a change, which [they] have never entirely done in the past."
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Seymour's prescience brings to mind D. H. Lawrence's character Paul Cresswell, the small boy in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" (1933), who is able to pick horse-race winners by receiving secret messages from his toy rocking horse, after mounting and riding it. The boy's death in that story, following his overtaxing his already weakened condition by furiously urging his horse on, to divine the name of the winning racehorse in the upcoming Derby, suggests an ancient and widely-held folk belief that is relevant here. Simply stated: attempting to gain hidden, "off-limits" information or knowledge that relates to the inner workings of the scheme of things we live under, is a taboo, punishable by a severe penalty, because the divine or supernatural order is violated by this unlawful entry. However that kind of "forbidden fruit" intelligence is obtained, there is generally too high a price that is exacted for the offense. This then requires that a closer look be taken at Hapworth 16, 1924.
The character Seymour of Salinger's Hapworth 16, 1924 seems to have little in common with D. H. Lawrence's Paul Cresswell, particularly since Seymour's complicated life experiences here were expanded in certain other stories by Salinger, and since Salinger is using as an underlying belief system the esoteric (to most Westerners) form of Eastern religious philosophy, Vedanta Hinduism. But it seems more than coincidental that Lawrence's and Salinger's...
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Aside from his New Yorker story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (January 31, 1948), Salinger wrote four longer fictions between 1955 and 1959—all published in the New Yorker—having something to do with Seymour Glass and the various other members of the Glass Family: "Franny" (January 29, 1955), "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" (November 19, 1955), "Zooey" (May 4, 1957), and "Seymour: An Introduction" (June 6, 1959). Brooding over these stories ("Franny" is the exception) is the unseen and sometimes seen presence of Seymour, Buddy's genius, rare poet, saint, spiritual guide, source of inspiration, and nonpareil hero—who in 1948 shot himself to death in a Florida hotel room where he and his wife Muriel were staying. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which describes the suicide, concerns among other things Seymour's unpredictable behavior, his wife's parents' concern for her safety, and his encounter with a small girl on the beach, whom he regales with a tale about a sea-trap for catching bananafish. This strangely resonant story was published less than five months before the New Yorker's all-time sensation, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (June 26, 1948). From his concise suicide-drama, Salinger developed a mystifying saga of an alter- ego figure who throughout most of his thirty-one years of existence cast a giant shadow over the rest of his family, which Salinger has apparently made his own.
Franny and Zooey are two more...
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