Style and Technique
Salinger created his reputation in the 1950’s by counterpointing the whimsical with the mystical. The author’s tone is critical of his characters and could even be said, at times, to be sarcastic. Mary Jane, “with little or no wherewithal for being left alone in a room,” is seen to be of limited intelligence. Eloise is, perhaps, more intelligent but insensitive in her dealing with her maid and relates tasteless gossip endlessly to Mary Jane. Mary Jane at one point comes “back into drinking position”; Eloise “lunged . . . to her feet.”
Salinger’s satire on the college-girl speech of Eloise and Mary Jane is evident in the initial paragraph (“everything had been absolutely perfect . . . that she had remembered the way exactly”). The author’s contempt for these drunken women is conveyed almost totally by the dialogue and the manner in which he describes the characters. As in some other Salinger stories, the author assumes a certain sophistication on the part of the reader regarding suburban life and even this particular section of the New York suburbs. Salinger refers glibly to the Merritt Parkway (even Mary Jane calls it “Merrick”) in southwestern Connecticut, Larchmont (another fashionable commuter town in Westchester), and stores such as Lord and Taylor, which caters to an upper-middle-class clientele. Artifacts such as the camel-hair coat, the convertible car, and the elaborate luncheon menu all indicate a certain social and economic status presumably familiar to the reader. Thus, Salinger wastes little time on the setting and concentrates his focus on the appearance and speech of the three central characters. He treats Eloise and Mary Jane with a certain deliberate malice and the child Ramona with compassion.
The unhappiness and duplicity of both Mary Jane and Eloise become more evident as the plot develops, and the author cleverly intensifies not only the vulgarity but also the open hostility in the speeches of the two women. Their speech becomes slurred and their swearing more frequent: “I don’t wanna go out there. The whole damn place smells of orange juice.” Eloise’s attitude toward her husband and her feelings of guilt toward her child are finally revealed unmistakably in her telephone conversation with Lew (to whom she gives short shrift) and her tearful breakdown in Ramona’s bedroom, followed by the final anxious question to Mary Jane that concludes the narrative.