The meaning of Shoeless Joe may not be immediately clear to readers: Why should they care if Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other dead members of the 1919 White Sox get the opportunity to play baseball once again, or if Ray Kinsella succeeds in persuading J. D. Salinger that he should resume writing fiction? Readers gradually come to the realization, however, that the main themes of Shoeless Joe are not associated with baseball but rather with death and individuals’ attempts to deal with the past. Like all people, Ray Kinsella wishes that he could change his past and have a final conversation with his late father. Readers know that this is impossible; nevertheless, they wish that reality could correspond to one’s dreams.
When he first hears the voice telling him “If you build it, he will come” and “Ease his pain,” Ray Kinsella assumes that the voice is referring only to Shoeless Joe Jackson, and he builds only a left field because Shoeless Joe was a left fielder. He believes that this will “ease the pain” of Shoeless Joe, who was banned for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis from the sport that had brought him so much happiness. Although quite beautiful and green, Ray’s left field is not a complete baseball field, and, when Shoeless Joe arrives, he persuades Ray that there are other players who would like to play; Ray then builds a complete baseball field. He also discovers that only those who believe in the miraculous happenings on his baseball diamond see the ghostly players and learn anything from them. Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark, who thinks only of all the money that could be made by planting corn in this field, sees no one there and tries unsuccessfully to force Ray to sell his farm.
Then, another idea occurs to Ray: He believes that “he” may refer to J. D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951) who stopped writing and became a recluse in New England. Ray recalled that there is a character named Ray Kinsella in a 1941 short story by Salinger and a minor character named Richard Kinsella in Salinger’s famous novel. He also read in a 1965 interview that Salinger’s wish as a child was to play baseball for the New York Giants in the Polo Grounds. Salinger noted that this dream had become impossible because he was too old and because the Polo Grounds were torn down in 1964.
For reasons that neither man can understand, Ray and J. D. Salinger go to a ball game in Boston’s Fenway Park, where they alone see on the scoreboard the records of an outfielder named Moonlight...
(The entire section is 671 words.)