Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The method of narration is typical of Salinger’s ironic tone. In another story, Salinger uses the phrase “the wise child.” His stories are frequently concerned with intelligent, even brilliant, young people who point out some lesson to their elders, many of whom do not profit from the experience. De Daumier-Smith never reveals his legal name, but he reveals much else through his articulate comments, his mature vocabulary, and his sensitive observation of those around him.

De Daumier-Smith, the narrator, uses phrases such as “feeling almost unsupportably qualified” to describe himself at one point. However, a few paragraphs later, he says that he used “all my spare time plus some that didn’t quite belong to me,” indicating a certain insecurity. Salinger’s adolescent tends to “reiterate earlier lies” while reinforcing the dramatic irony of his situation as the plot develops. The reader is aware of the narrator’s inadequacies as a result of the narrator’s totally candid revelations about himself while presenting an opaque facade to the rest of the world—his “armor.” The narrative is mainly chronological in its relation of the events of several months in 1939. Slight shifts or gaps in this sequence are indicated by double spaces between paragraphs.

The irony of the hero’s situation is constantly underlined by the author with the use of words whose connotations are unmistakable and frequently amusing. A “highly unendowed-looking building” describes De Daumier Smith’s first view of his art academy. The “Harvard Senior” represents De Daumier-Smith’s stepfather in his relation to the narrator, who is “a Cambridge Newsboy.” Salinger also uses anticlimax (“Her eyes sparkled with depravity”) for comic effect.

Thus, the tone of the story is lightly ironic and combines a self-deprecating narrative with the more serious aspects of character development and theme. As with many of Salinger’s short stories and in spite of the considerable length of the narrative, the falling action is minimal and consists of a short epilogue of only two short paragraphs.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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