Category Archives: Nine Stories

Readers’ Guides for all stories published in Nine Stories

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 – “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”

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 – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”

Publication Details

“For Esme – With Love and Squalor” was published in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950.  It was later collected in Nine Stories (1953)

Character List

Staff Sergeant X (also The Narrator)

Narrator of the story, who has suffered shell shock and is telling us the story of a special child he met right before his unit participated in the D Day landings, as well as the dark period he suffered after battle.  The story is split parts, and in one part the narration is first person, in the other it is third person.  The third person narration is the point in the story where the narrator is referred to as “Staff Sergeant X.”

Esme

The young girl who has a conversation with Sergeant X the day before he goes into battle, and subsequently sends him a letter that reaches him once the battle is over.  In the beginning of the story, we are told that Esme is getting married, and that she invited Sergeant X to the ceremony, even though she only met him once.

Charles

Esme’s little brother, a source of comic relief in the story and the focus on many critical studies along with the two main characters.

Corporal Z (Clay)

Sergeant X’s roommate after the battle.  Some critics say he is the foil to Sergeant X’s character, and others say he represents the “squalor” from the title.  He is crass and crude, and very much a caricature of a young, toughened Army grunt.

Miss Megley

Esme and Charles’ governess.  She has a small role in the story, mainly as a not-very-good governess who allows the children to sit with and talk to Sergeant X.

Staff Sergeant X’s Wife

Barely mentioned.

Mother Goucher

Sergeant X’s mother-in-law.  Mentioned at the beginning of the story.

Background

Salinger:  A Biography by Paul Alexander tells us:

“As soon as The New Yorker published ‘For Esme – With Love and Squalor,’ Salinger began to hear from readers.  On April 20, he wrote to Lobrano from Westport to tell him that he had already gotten more letters about ‘For Esme’ than he head for any story he had published.”

Hamish Hamilton (a British publisher) wanted to publish a collection of Salinger’s stories.  Salinger was reluctant.  He ended up publishing Nine Stories (not with Hamilton), but “two months after Little, Brown published Nine Stories, Hamish Hamilton released the book in England.  There was, however, one major difference between the American and British versions.  Hamilton felt strongly that the generic name Nine Stories would have been the worst possible title to put on the book and he somehow convinced Saligner to let him use as the title for the collection “For Esme – With Love and Squalor,” the story that was perhaps Salinger’s most famous in England if not the United States as well.  To the public, Hamilton also finessed the fact that the book was a collection of stories by emphasizing in the advertising copy the idea that For Esme was the next book from the author of The Catcher in the Rye.  Hamilton wanted to downplay the truth, since story collections never sell as well as novels.”

Hamilton put the book out in 1953.  It did not do well financially, but was well-received critically.  Later the same year, Hamilton sold the book to Ace Books – a mass market publisher.  They did not usually deal with “real literature.”  Hamilton thought it was a good financial decision.  Ace published the book with an inappropriate picture of an older, sexy blond girl on the cover.  Hamilton didn’t consult Salinger before the sale, and Salinger was truly angry.  Salinger never spoke to him again.

ForEsmeWithLoveAndSqualor
Ace Books cover Image of "For Esme with Love & Squalor"

Plot Synopsis

The story opens with a first person narrator informing the reader that he received an invitation for an English wedding that will take place April 18th.  He expresses a desire to go to the wedding, but tells the reader that his mother-in-law (Mother Grencher) is coming to visit, so he can’t.  He says that he has “jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago.”

The narrator then tells us that in April of 1944 he was stationed in Devon, England.  We learn that he is American, that he was an enlisted man, and that he was part of a “rather specialized pre-Invasion training course.”  His unit trained for three weeks, and then they were scheduled to be a part the “D Day Landings.”  On this last night before the deployment, the narrator had already packed his bags, so he gets on his outdoor things and walks into town.

Once in town, he stops at a church where schoolchildren are having choir practice.  He notices one child in particular, who has a clearer and nicer voice than the other children.  She is around thirteen years old, and is a very pretty child.  After the song ends, the narrator goes to a tearoom.  Soon after, the pretty young girl from choir practice comes into the tearoom with a governess and a little boy.

The girl eventually approaches the narrator, and he asks her to join him.  The conversation that takes place is witty and delightful, and the narrator is obviously very impressed by his companion’s intelligence.  The girl, named Esme, tells the narrator about her aspirations, her past, her family, and we learn that her father has died in the war.

Esme’s brother Charles comes over and tells the narrator a joke, “What did one wall say to the other wall?  Meet you at the corner!”  Charles is very amused by his joke and laughs uproariously.

The narrator notices the large wristwatch that Esme is wearing.  It belonged to her father.  She, having learned that the narrator was a “professional short-story writer” before the war, tells the narrator that she wishes he would write a story for her – and that she prefers “stories about squalor.”

Charles tells his joke again, and the narrator finishes the punch line.  Charles gets angry and stomps away, and soon it is time for the children to leave the tea house.  Before she goes, Esme asks the narrator if he wants for her to write to him, because she writes “extremely articulate letters.”  The narrator gives her his rank and name so she can write to him.  She tells him she’ll write to him first so that he doesn’t feel “compromised” in any way.  Charles and Esme come back into the tea room because Charles wants to kiss the narrator goodbye.  The narrator asks Charles “What did one wall say to the other wall?” and Charles happily replies, “Meet you at the corner!”

The narration shifts and we have the first person narrator telling us that “this is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes.”  The narration shifts to a third person narrator and the setting of the story shifts to Gaufurt, Bavaria “several weeks after V-E Day.”

Staff Sergeant X, possibly recovering from a nervous breakdown and suffering shell shock.  He is not able to sleep, he is chain-smoking, his gums are bleeding, and he is generally in ill health.  His friend Clay, whom he refers to as “Corporal Z” talks to him about his girlfriend Loretta, and tries to get X to come to some parties in town.  X declines, and stays in his room alone.  He finds a pile of mail that he had not yet opened, and opens a letter that is from Esme.

In the letter Esme apologizes for her delay in writing, and asks him to “reply as soon as possible.”  She sends her father’s wristwatch in the package, and at the end of the letter Charles has added “HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHARLES.”

X finally starts to feel sleepy, and the reader is left with the feeling that he might come out of this after all. Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”