Category Archives: Readers’ Guides

Useful info for readers including publication info, character lists, briefly annotated relevant criticism, reviews, and questions for further study.

A Source for Seymour’s Suicide: Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories by James Finn Cotter

MLA Citation:

Cotter, James Finn.  “A Source for Seymour’s Suicide: Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories“. Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature: 25.1 ( 1989 Winter), pp. 83-98.

First Paragraph:

J. D. Salinger’s short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” employs the traditional device of a surprise ending. Seymour Glass returns to his Miami hotel room, glances at his wife asleep on her bed, takes from his luggage a heavy-caliber German automatic, sits down on his bed, looks again at Muriel, and fires a bullet through his head.

Summary:

Cotter, after giving a laundry list of possible explanations for Seymour’s suicide, including theories as wide-ranging as sexual frustration to the fulfillment of nirvana, examines the influence of Rilke’s poetry. He starts with “Bananafish specifically, noting that several previous scholars have also pointed to the likelihood that the German poet Seymour refers to in “Bananafish” is Rilke. He compares “Bananafish” to “The Song of Suicide” noting parallels and suggesting connections that include a concentration on materialism, especially connected to the stomach and with “hunger”.  Cotter then expands his analysis to include the other Voices, which as he notes also contain nine items, (ten, with the addition of a title page) and their connections to Nine Stories.

Reader’s Guide – “Uncle Wiggily In Connecticut”

Publication Details:

J.D. Salinger, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” The New Yorker.  March 20, 1948.  p 30-36.  Print.

Salinger, J.D. “”Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”” Nine Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Print.

Character List:

Eloise Wengler – the woman of the house where the story is set, mother of Ramona and wife of Lew, former girlfriend of Walt Glass.

Mary Jane – Eloise’s former college roommate, come to have a visit with Eloise.

Ramona Wengler – Eloise and Lew’s daughter, has an imaginary friend named Jimmy Jimereeno who dies during the course of the story.

Lew Wengler – Eloise’s husband – is mentioned but does not appear in the story.

Walt Glass – only referred to a “Walt,” Eloise’s old boyfriend who called drafted during their relationship and died in WWII.  Is a member of the Glass family.

Grace – The Wengler’s housekeeper.

Summary:

The story opens with Mary Jane arriving at Eloise’s house for a quick visit.  The women had been roommates in college, though neither of them graduated.  Eloise had been caught with a solider in her dorm (maybe that soldier was Walt?) and Mary Jane left college to get married to another soldier who spent two of the three months they were married in jail.

Eloise and Mary Jane start drinking and talking about their college days, and about mutual friends.  Mary Jane keeps insisting that she needs to leave, but Eloise keeps the drinks coming and they both sit and drink and smoke for a while.  Eloise’s daughter, Ramona, comes in and Mary Jane speaks to her.  Ramona has an imaginary friend named Jimmy Jimereeno.  Ramona later informs Mary Jane and Eloise that Jimmy is dead, having been hit by a car.

Eloise talks about Walt, her ex-boyfriend, and gets very sentimental.  She tells Mary Jane that one time she injured her ankle, and Walk said, “Poor Uncle Wiggily,” talking about her ankle.  The conversation moves to Lew, Eloise’s husband, and Mary Jane asks why Eloise never told Lew about Walt, and Eloise waxes philosophical about men and marriage, stating that men never want to know about the men you dated before them.  Mary Jane and Eloise discuss how Walt died in the war, and Eloise continues to get even more emotional.

Lew calls and we hear Eloise’s side of the conversation.  The weather is bad and Lew is not sure when he’ll be home.  Later, Grace asks Eloise if her husband can stay the night, because the weather is so bad.  Eloise tells her that he cannot stay, and Grace acquiesces.

Mary Jane passes out on the couch, and Eloise goes upstairs to check on Ramona, who she had sent upstairs after determining she was feverish after Ramona informed the women about Jimmy’s unfortunate accident.  Ramona is only sleeping on one side of her bed, and Eloise asks her why, since Jimmy is dead.  Ramona tells her that she is making room for her new friend, Mickey Mickeranno.  Eloise is cross with Ramona, telling her to get in the center of the bed immediately.  Ramona is afraid and shuts her eyes.

Eloise is maudlin, picks up Ramona’s glasses which are sitting on the side table, lenses up and stems down.  She holds them to her teary cheek, and repeats “Poor Uncle Wiggily” over and over again.  She puts the glasses back down on the nightstand, lenses down, still wet with her tears.  She leans over her daughter, who has been crying, and kisses her and staggers out of the room.

Eloise goes downstairs, wakes up Mary Jane, and reminds her of a time that someone at school made a mean comment about a dress Eloise wore.  She says that she cried all night about it.  She asks Mary Jane, “I was a nice girl…wasn’t I?”

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Uncle Wiggily In Connecticut”

Reader’s Guide – “A Slight Rebellion Off Madison”

Contributed by Tim Towslee. Thank you Tim!

Publication History:

  • c. 1941, sold to the New Yorker in November 1941 as “Am I Banging My Head Against the Wall?” (Greiner), publication delayed due to U.S. entry into WWII
  • p. 21 December 1946 in The New Yorker as “Slight Rebellion Off Madison”
  • collected in David Remmick’s Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker (2000)

Character List:

Holden Caulfield: The central character. His middle name is Morrisey.

George Harrison: An acquaintance of Sally Hayes. He is a student at Andover.

Sally Hayes: A girl Holden likes and is meeting in the city for ice skating.

Carl Luce:: Carl is described as overweight and unattractive. He is a classmate of Holden’s at Pencey Prep.

Summary:

This story is the assumed basis for The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 17. In it, Holden Caulfield goes ice skating with Sally Hayes. After some small talk with her, Holden reveals his thoughts about his perceived pointlessness of prep school. He tells her he’d like for them to move away, far away, from the city; but Sally dismisses this as a ridiculous notion. Later, Holden and Carl Luce appear at the Wadsworth bar, where they drink scotch and sodas. Holden calls Carl an “intellectual guy” and asks him what he would do if he hated school and wanted to “get the hell out of New York.” Later, when he is alone Holden drunkenly calls Sally twice on a payphone. Then, after chatting with the piano player, Holden waits for a bus on the corner of Madison Avenue with tears in his eyes.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “A Slight Rebellion Off Madison”

Reader’s Guide – “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”

Publication History:

“Just Before the War with the Eskimos” appeared in the June 5, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and was reprinted in Salinger’s 1953 collection Nine Stories.

Character List:

Ginnie Maddox: A young woman of 15. She has been playing tennis with Selena for at least five weeks.

Selena Graff: Another young woman, whose mother has pneumonia. She is also 15 and has a brother named Franklin.

Franklin Graff: Selena’s Brother, Franklin is 24 years old and has not gone to the war due to his being classified 4-F for a bad heart. He has been working in an airplane factory.

Eric: Franklin’s friend. Eric has an effeminate personality and has been living with a writer.

Summary:

Ginnie Maddox and her classmate Selena have been playing tennis for several weeks. Though Selena always brings fresh cans of tennis balls, she never contributes to the cab fare. Ginnie becomes annoyed and insists that Selena reimburse her the cost of the cab fares she has paid. Selena tries to explain to Ginnie that her mother is ill and she could give her the money in class later, but Ginnie becomes insistent and waits for Selena to go upstairs and retrieve the money from her mother.

While she waits, Ginnie talks with Selena’s brother Franklin whose overall physical demeanor she finds repulsive, and who is 4-F status and has been working in an airplane factory for the past few years. Franklin has cut his finger and is working to heal it while he talks with Ginnie. He offers her a half of a chicken sandwich, then dashes upstairs to finish getting ready. As he goes upstairs, Franklin’s friend Eric arrives. Eric and Franklin hare plans to go see Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, which Eric thinks is magnificent; he also admires Ginnie’s camel’s hair coat, and talks at length about his roommate, who is a writer.

(Ed. Note: These observations, are Eric’s effeminate language and gesture signal the potential that Eric [and perhaps by association, Franklin] can be interpreted as gay characters.)

When Selena finally returns with the money, Ginnie tells her to keep it and suggests she might come over later, even though she had previously indicated that she had plans for the evening. On her walk home, she takes the chicken sandwich half out of her pocket, but decides against throwing it aaway, noting how it had once taken her three days to discard a dead Easter chick.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”

Reader’s Guide – “The Laughing Man”

Contributed by John Piersol. Thanks John!

Publication Details:

First published in The New Yorker on March 19, 1949. Later collected and published in Nine Stories.

Character List:

Unnamed narrator – A nine year old boy from New York City and member of the Comanche Club, who seems to idolize “The Chief.”

John Gedsudski – “The Chief” of the Comanches, and a law student at NYU.

Mary Hudson – John’s girlfriend, she is very beautiful, athletic and attended Wellesley College.

Summary:

“The Laughing Man” is told by a nine-year-old living in New York City in 1928. He is a member of a Comanche Club troop. The narrator tells the story of his Scout leader, “The Chief,” a young law student at New York University. The Chief is physically unattractive, but the troop seems to hold him in high regard. He is widely respected by his troop for his athletic strength and storytelling ability.

Every day, after the troop has completed its activities, the Chief gathers the boys for the next episode in an ongoing story he tells them about the Laughing Man. The Chief’s story-within-a-story describes The Laughing Man was the child of wealthy missionaries, and was kidnapped by bandits in China. The bandits torture left him with a grotesquely deformed face and he was shunned and obliged to wear a sheer red mask made of poppy petals. Despite this deformity, the laughing man was possessed of the ability to outsmart the bandits and eventually kept them captive in a mausoleum. Through acts of artifice and bravery, the laughing man amassed a fortune and lived with four companions, a wolf, a dwarf, a giant and a lovely Eurasian girl. The narrator summarizes the Chief’s installments of The Laughing Man’s escapades, presenting him as a sort of hero crossing “the Chinese-Paris” border to commit acts of heroic larceny and tweaking his nose at his archenemy “Marcel Dufarge, the internationally famous detective and witty consumptive.” (90)

When The Chief begins seeing a beautiful young woman, Mary Hudson, a student who attended Wellesley College, Mary begins to join the all boys group. Unwilling to break the aura of machismo he has built up with his troop, the Chief introduces her into the boys’ baseball games as an “associate coach.”

One day the Chief presents an installment where the laughing man is taken prisoner by his arch-rival, and through deception and betrayal, bound to a tree and in mortal danger. Immediately after, the Chief brings the troop to a baseball field. Mary Hudson arrives. The Chief and Mary have a conversation out of earshot of the boys, and both are obviously upset. Why John and Mary are distraught is ambiguous, as their conversation occurs away from the story’s narrator. However, Salinger gives some subtle hints in the form of baby carriages, including one the narrator nearly trips over.

In the final installment of his Laughing Man story, the Chief brutally kills off the character and the narrator returns home, evidently disturbed by the story and the anxieties he feels about the chief’s relationship.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “The Laughing Man”

Reader’s Guide – “Teddy”

Thanks to Brian McTague for contributing the bulk of this content for the “Teddy” Reader’s Guide.

Publication Details:

Published in The New Yorker January 31, 1953, pages 26-34, 36, 38, 40-41, 44-45.

Later published in Nine Stories, Little, Brown, 1953.

Character List:

Teddy McArdle – child genius, philosopher, and spiritual guru.  At ten years old he keeps a meticulous diary, has speaking engagements all over the country, and keeps up very sophisticated correspondence with academic and spiritual figures.

Mr. McArdle – Teddy’s father.  A radio actor.

Mrs. McArdle – Teddy’s mother.

Booper McArdle – Teddy’s surly younger sister

Bob Nicholson – a fellow passenger on the ship the McArdles are traveling on, he’s heard one of Teddy’s tapes and is fascinated with the boy.

Myron – a young boy on the ship to whom Booper is cruel.

Plot Synopsis:

Teddy, his parents, and his little sister are traveling by ship, returning from an engagement at Oxford and another at Edinburgh, where Teddy met with people to discuss spiritual and academic topics.  The story opens with Teddy in his family’s cabin, his father speaking crossly to him, and his mother languishing in bed.  Teddy updates his diary, noting many things he needs to do, including correspondence with several individuals, and things he can do to make his family happier.  In true Salinger style, Teddy is an exceptional child, and very intellectually advanced.  Unlike the other children in Salinger’s work, Teddy is also very spiritually advanced, having studied Vedantic thought.  He believes he is the reincarnation of an Indian man who had reached an advanced state of enlightenment, but had ceased to reach true enlightenment because of a woman.

Teddy encounters another passenger on the boat, a young academic named Bob, who had heard one of Teddy’s tapes.  Nicholson and Teddy have a very in-depth conversation about spirituality.  In this conversation, Teddy shares his own spiritual beliefs, and expresses the belief that a fear of death is silly.  When one dies it is meant to happen.  He (seemingly offhandedly) mentions that if his sister happened to push him into an empty pool and his head were to crack and he died right away that nobody should be sad because if it happened, it was supposed to happen.

Teddy leaves to go to his swimming listen, and Bob follows behind and from the stairway hears a high-pitched scream, described to be like the scream of a small girl child.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Teddy”

Reader’s Guide – “Franny”

This reader’s guide was contributed by Leslie Gleue.  Thanks, Leslie!

Publication Details:

First published in The New Yorker on January 29,  1955 – pages 24-32, 35-43.  Later published in the same book as “Zooey” in a volume called Franny and Zooey, which was published by Little, Brown in the Fall of 1961.

Character List:

Franny Glass – a young college student traveling to visit her boyfriend for “the Yale game.”  Franny is the youngest of the Glass family’s children.
Lane Coutell – Franny’s boyfriend

Plot Synopsis:

Franny travels by train to meet her boyfriend, Lane, for a fun weekend of football and friends.  Things seem off when they meet at the platform, and they decide to go to a restaurant that is popular with the intellectual crowd.  Franny is nervous and out of sorts, chain-smoking and barely eating.  Lane tries to have a “normal” conversation with her, but she is distracted.  Lane gets insulted at several different points of the conversation.  She excuses herself to go the restroom, and comes back feeling better.  She finally tells him about a book she’s carrying with her, called “The Way of the Pilgrim.”  It’s about a man who travels travels to master the art of continuous prayer through something called the Jesus Prayer.  To do this, one repeats “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over until it becomes a part of their very breath and heartbeat.  This appeals to Franny, because it represents purification.  Lane is bored by this and discounts the idea.  Franny gets up to go to the bathroom again, and faints.  When she comes to, Lane suggests that she get some rest.  She stares at the ceiling, silently repeating the Jesus Prayer.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Franny”

Readers Guide – “Hapworth 16, 1924”

Reader’s Guide kindly contributed by Kathy Gabriel.  Thanks, Kathy!

Publication Details

Published in the The New Yorker, June 19, 1965, pages 32-113

Plot Summary

Buddy Glass, age 46 transcribes a letter written by his older brother Seymour at the age of seven, when both boys were attending summer camp at Camp Simon Hapworth. Seymour provides an emotional account of their time at Camp Hapworth interspersed with condescending advice to his family and rants on religion and literature in nearly 30,000 words. It was Salinger’s first and only published work after “Seymour: An Introduction.”

Continue reading Readers Guide – “Hapworth 16, 1924”

Readers Guide – “A Perfect Day For Bananafish”

Publication Details:

The New Yorker January 31, 1948.  Pages 21-25. Later published as part of the collection Nine Stories.

Character List:

Seymour Glass

A young, newlywed soldier who has just returned from the war.  He’s on vacation with his wife in Florida.

Muriel Glass

Seymour’s wife.

Muriel’s Mother

Muriel’s mother, who expresses great concern about Seymour’s state of mind.

Sybil Carpenter

A four-year-old little girl who interacts with Seymour on the beach.  She and her mother are staying in the same hotel as Seymour and Muriel.

Mrs. Carpenter

Sybil’s mother.

Sharon Lipschutz

Another little girl who is staying in the same hotel.

Plot Synopsis:

The story opens on Muriel alone in she and Seymour’s hotel room.  Her call finally gets connected, and she proceeds to have a long conversation with her mother, who expresses a great deal of concern about Muriel because she seems to think that Seymour is crazy.

The scene changes.  Sybil is on the beach, having suntan lotion applied by her mother.  Her mother leaves to go back up to the hotel to have a drink

Sybil walks down the beach and approaches a man (Seymour) who is lying in his robe on the beach.  He and Sybil have a characteristically Salingeresque conversation wherein Seymour tells Sybil to keep an eye out for bananafish.  He exaplains that bananafish “lead a very tragic life” in that they swim into a hole underwater and gorge themselves on bananas so much that they can’t get out and die.

After he and Sybil’s time in the water Seymour goes back into the hotel.  He has a strange outburst at fellow hotel guests in the elevator, goes back into his hotel room, looks at his wife, retrieves his gun from his luggage, sits on the bed, and shoots himself in the head.

Reviews:

For reviews of Nine Stories in general, please see the Nine Stories Primary Text Page.

Criticism:

for an overview of each critical article, click on the link to each, or visit our Bibliographical Journal Article section.

Fassano, Anthony:  “Salinger’s A Perfect Day for Bananafish”  Explicator (66:3) 2008, 149-50

Greiner, Donald J:  “Updike and Salinger:  a literary incident.”  Critique: studies in contemporary fiction (47:2) 2006, 415-30.

Lacy, Robert:  “Sing a song of Sonny”  Sewanee Review (113:2) 2005, 309-316

Smith, Dominic:  “Salinger’s Nine Stories:  fifty years later”  Antioch Review (61:4) 2003, 639-49

Alsen, Eberhard:  “New light on the nervous breakdowns of Salinger’s Sergeant X and Seymour Glass”  CLA Journal (45:3) 2002, 379-87

Malcolm, Janet:  “Justice to J.D. Salinger”  New York Review of Books (48:10) 2001, 16-21

Lane, Gary:  “Seymour’s Suicide Again:  A New Reading of J.D. Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish'”  Studies in Short Fiction 10.1 (winter 1973) p 27-34  reprinted in Short Stories for Students Ed David A Galens Vol. 17.  Detroit Gale, 2003 from Literature Resource Center

Moran, Daniel:  “Critical Essay on ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish'” Short Stories for Students.  Ed. David A. Galens Vol. 17 Detroit Gale, 2003 from Literature Resource Center

Allsop, Kenneth:  The Dissentient Mood  “The Angry Decade:  A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen-Fifties

Cotter, James Finn:  “A Source for Seymour’s Suicide:  Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories”  papers on Language and Literature 25.1 (Winter 1989) p83-98  reprinted in Short Stories for Students

In JSTOR

Levine, P:  “JD Salinger:  The Development of the Misfit Hero” Twentieth Century Literature 1958

Wiegand, W:  “JD Salinger:  seventy-eight bananas”  Chicago Review, 1958

Baskett, SS:  “The Splendid/Squalid World of JD Salinger”  Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 1963

Smith, D:  “Salinger’s Nine Stories:  Fifty Years Later”  The Antioch Review, 2003

Glazier, L:  “The Glass Family Saga:  Argument and Epiphany”  College English, 1965

Boe, AF:  For Seymour:  With Love and Judgement”  Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 1963

Bryan, JE:  “Salinger’s Seymour’s Suicide”  College English, 1962

Mazzaro, JL:  “People in Glass Houses” The North American Review, 1964

Other sources

O’Hearn, S:  “The development of Seymour Glass as a figure of hope in the fiction of JD Salinger”  Open Dissertations and Theses, 1982

Themes and Discussion Points:

As you will learn if you browse the critical articles listed above, there are a myriad of things that Salinger scholars like to discuss when talking about “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”  Here is a list of critical questions that the articles above will help you answer.

1.  Why do you think Seymour kills himself at the end of the story?

2.  Why did the author choose that fate for Seymour?

3.  How do you explain Salinger’s need to revisit the topic of Seymour so often in his later work?  Do you think he regretted killing Seymour off in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish?”

4.  What do you think of the way that shell shock/war trauma is characterized in the story?  Do you think that Muriel is sympathetic to Seymour’s mental condition?

5.  What is the significance of Sybil?  Why do you think Seymour relates to Sybil better than to others?

6.  What is the significance of feet in this story?  Why does Seymour kiss the bottom of Sybil’s foot, and why does Seymour accuse the lady in the elevator  of looking at his feet?

7.  Why does Seymour want Sybil to look for Bananafish in the first place, and what is a Bananafish?

photo credit of Noah Sneider’s incredible work – http://www.noahsneider.com

Reader’s Guide – “Zooey”

Publication Details

Franny and Zooey
Image by Megan Inghram

The New Yorker, May 4, 1957 pages 32-42, 44, 47-48, 50, 52,54,57-59, 62, 64, 67-68, 70, 73-74, 76-78, 80-82, 87-90, 92-96, 99-102, 105-106, 108-112, 115-122, 125-139 (original appearance). Later published by Little Brown as Franny and Zooey in 1961, and dedicated to William Shawn.

Character List

Frances Glass (“Franny”)

A 20 year old college student

Zachary Martin Glass (“Zooey”)

Zooey is 25 years old. He is considered one of the most attractive and successful of the Glass children. It is noted that he is a successful television actor.

Bessie Glass

Irish-born family matriarch. Bessie worries about her children who have all seemed to grow up almost by themselves after years of success on “It’s a Wise Child.”

Les Glass

The absent father, Les is more or less only mentioned in “Zooey.” He is of Jewish descent and he and Bessie were successful Vaudevillians

Buddy Glass

Buddy is the second-oldest of the Glass children, he teaches at a women’s college.

Seymour Glass

Seymour has been dead 13 years during the course of events that composes “Zooey.”  Franny says she wants to talk to Seymour and that doing so is the only thing that will make her feel better.

Plot Synopsis

“Zooey” continues the story of Franny’s “spiritual awakening” on Monday, two days after Franny’s trip to Princeton. The novella also gives the reader additional information about the unusual upbringing of the Glass children, whose radio appearances as child geniuses, has created a unique bond among them. Salinger indicates even more in “Zooey” than in other Glass family stories that the Glass siblings have a unique understanding of one another based on this shared experience.

The narrative opens with Zooey, smoking and soaking in a hot bathtub, reading a four-year old letter from his brother, Buddy. The letter encourages Zooey to continue pursuing his acting career. Zooey’s mother, Bessie, enters the bathroom, and the two have a long discussion, wherein Bessie expresses her worries about Franny, whose existential anxiety seen in “Franny” has progressed to a state of emotional collapse. During the conversation, Zooey vacillates between a sort of tit-for-tat banter with his mother and a downright rude dismissal of her and repeatedly asks that she leave. Bessie accepts Zooey’s behavior, and quips that he’s becoming more and more like his brother Buddy.

After Bessie leaves, Zooey gets dressed and moves into the living room, where he finds Franny on the sofa with her cat Bloomberg, and begins speaking with her. After upsetting Franny by questioning her motives for reciting the “Jesus Prayer,” Zooey goes into Seymour and Buddy’s former bedroom and reads the back of their door, which is covered in philosophical and literary quotations. After contemplation, Zooey telephones Franny, pretending to be their brother Buddy. Franny eventually acknowledges the ruse, but she and Zooey continue to talk. Knowing that Franny reveres their oldest brother, Seymour – the spiritual leader of the family, who committed suicide years earlier – Zooey shares with her some words of wisdom that Seymour once gave him. At the end of the call, as the fundamental “secret” of Seymour’s advice is revealed, Franny seems, in a moment reminiscent of a mystical satori, to find profound existential illumination in what Zooey has told her.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Zooey”