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”

Updike and Salinger: A Literary Incident by Donald J. Greiner

MLA Citation:

Greiner, Donald J. “Updike and Salinger: A Literary Incident.” Critique 47.2 (2006): 415-30.Literature Online. Web. 17 October 2009.

First Paragraph:

“In 2003, when John Updike published The Early Stories, 1953–1975, an 839-page collection honored with the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, he included a foreword in which he recalled the development of the first two decades of his enduring and esteemed career. The germ of the career took its initial significant shape at Harvard, where Updike was an undergraduate from 1950 to 1954, and where, in 1953, he submitted to Albert Guerard’s creative writing class a story titled “Ace in the Hole.” On the advice of Professor Guerard, he sent the story to the New Yorker, which rejected it. As Updike explains in the foreword, “The next year, though, after ‘Friends from Philadelphia’ and some poems had been accepted by the magazine in my first post-collegiate summer, I resubmitted the story and it was accepted” (ix). Thus, although “Friends from Philadelphia” is Updike’s first professional story, as it was published in the New Yorker for 30 October 1954, “Ace in the Hole” was written earlier and is his initial important contact with the magazine that would feature his work for the next half century.” (115)

Summary:

Greiner’s article analyzes the early effect that Salinger’s fiction had on John Updike. Updike sincerely seemed to admire Salinger’s earlier pieces, including, notably, “Just Before the War with the Eskimos.” Updike’s view on Salinger’s later fiction, was of course, much less positive. Greiner also suggests that since Hemingway and Faulkner’s careers were near close, the literary reputation of America was of concern to a Cold War Era literate populace. Greiner indicates that Salinger had the ubiquitous distinction of being the preeminent literary figure poised to fill the void left by these Modernist literary giants. Greiner suggests that 1948 was a banner year for Salinger, but that, by the 1960’s his decreased publications and his own devaluation of his early work (by not choosing these works to be collected) led Updike to take his place as the favored writer of The New Yorker.

J. D. Salinger: A Bibliographical Checklist

American Book Collector
American Book Collector, Volume 2, Number 3 (New Series) from the collection of Dr. A. Bryant Mangum.

MLA Citation:

Bixby, George. “J. D. Salinger: A Bibliographical Checklist.” American Book Collector ns 2.3 (1981): 29-32. Print.

Summary:

Contains two sections. Section A is a list of Primary Works and includes detailed specifications for distinguishing first editions. Section A contains six entries, one for each of the following works:

  1. Catcher in the Rye (Promotional Broadside)
  2. The Catcher in the Rye
  3. Nine Stories
  4. Franny and Zooey
  5. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction
  6. The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger

Section B contains secondary publications, and lists the following ten items:

  1. The Kit Book for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines
  2. The Saturday Evening Post Stories 1942-1945
  3. The Best American Short Stories 1949 and The Yearbook of the American Short Story
  4. 55 Short Stories from the New Yorker
  5. Prize Stories of 1949: The O. Henry Awards
  6. Story: The Fiction of the Forties
  7. Harper’s Magazine Reader: A Selection of Articles, Stories and Poems from Harper’s Magazine
  8. Twentieth Century Auhtors First Supplement A Biographical Dictinary of Modern Literature
  9. The Armchair Esquire
  10. Stories from the New Yorker 1950-1960


Salinger and Consumer Culture

Contributed by Tim Towslee. Many thanks Tim!

Ed. note: This is great background for examining the cultural shifts that Salinger was reacting against. More information is forthcoming about Salinger’s relationship to post-war consumer culture.

Consumer Culture: 1945-1960

A Very Short History of Consumerism in Prewar America:

  • Consumerism has its roots on American soil in the seventeenth century. The puritans believed that there were two types of consumption: that which was directed at satisfying needs, and that which purposed to satisfy wants. They considered the former legitimate and condemned the latter (Campbell 19).
  • As America developed as a nation, consumerism played a great role. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Americans were producers. In the mid- to late- nineteenth century, with the emergence of the middle class, a shift occurred and more people took part in consumption of goods rather than production. At the end of the nineteenth century, middle-class Americans left their blue-collar production jobs for white-collar careers in sales, advertising, banking, etc. These jobs afforded them more money and more leisure time in which to spend it. Thorsetein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) addresses this phenomenon. His book is still uncannily prescient today.
  • American culture transformed from a more text and language based society to a more audiovisual culture in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Warren Susman identifies this period as the origin of “the comics, the poster, the photograph, the phonograph, the telephone, the radio, moving pictures, advertising, pulp magazines and with them certain genres of fiction and nonfiction, and, perhaps most centrally, the automobile” (xxvi). Susman argues that these media define our culture and its ideology.
  • In his book Keywords (1985), consumer culture historian Raymond Williams lists “personality” as one of the words that entered the middle class vocabulary in the early twentieth century as advertisers catered to the individual and the development of self through consumerism.
  • Veblen’s model assumes that consumption is a form of communication in which the ‘signals’ concerning wealth (and thus, it is argued, the social status) of the consumer are telegraphed to others. In addition, it is assumed that individuals seek to use such ‘conspicuous consumption’ as a way of improving their social standing, aiming ultimately to ‘emulate’ that ‘leisure class’ which, it is claimed, stands at the pinnacle of the class system. This view of the class system links it directly with an ethically dubious activity, social climbing. In assuming that consumers’ main interest in goods is as symbols of status, Veblen asserts that consumers are motivated by a mixture of anxiety (over how others may view them) and envy (of those in a superior position). (Campbell 21)
  • The seeds of mass consumption were planted in America in the 1920s and 1930s, but the Great Depression and World War II kept it from flourishing until 1945. There were, however, visible sprouts present in wealthy metropolitan areas that were unfazed by both depression and war.
  • In his 1941 State of the Union Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt “laid out ‘Four Freedoms,’ one of which was ‘freedom from want,’ calling for ‘the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living’” (Glickman 5).

Postwar Economy in a Nutshell:

  • After World War II, America experienced an economic boom attributed to, among other things, lower gas prices, more women in the workforce, the baby boom, and a vast suburban migration. More than anything else Americans cast aside their penny pinching thrift, a habit necessitated by twenty years of depression and war, and replaced it with a new level of consumption. Answering F.D.R.’s call, middle-class Americans were now “denoted by their skills in ‘the art of living’ – defining their social status and sense of cultural identity through distinctive, consumption-driven lifestyles, their values and codes of behavior laying an accent on stylistic self-expression, self-conscious display, and [using Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘new petite bourgeoisie’ terminology] an ‘ethic of fun.’ …[They] embraced “hedonistic consumption as an acceptable – indeed, highly desirable – focal point to their values, aspirations, and social practices” (Osgerby 12).
  • America proved the biggest single consumer of [its own outpouring of wartime production]. Denied many goods during the austere war years, their pockets lined with unspent money, citizens rushed to buy everything that appeared on the new peacetime market. The orgy of self-indulgence created a level of prosperity unseen since the heady days just before the stock market crash of 1929 (Young 3).
  • Between 1950 and 1960, the gross national product grew from $285 billion to $500 billion.
  • The U.S. population grew from 132 million in 1940 to 150 million in 1950, and to 179 million in 1960.
  • The median family income rose from $3,083 per year in 1950 to $5,976 per year in 1960. This surge in disposable income manifested itself in increased sales of “new cars (as opposed to used ones), televisions, high-fidelity units, improved telephones, alcoholic beverages, and endless entertainment” (Young 6).

Continue reading Salinger and Consumer Culture

How To Use SalingerinContext.org

Thanks for visiting SalingerinContext.org!

We have designed this site to be interesting as well as informative.

A full sitemap is available to help guide you, and the drop down Sections Menu on the right will be useful as well, but first some notes on the site’s organization and use.

  1. We designed SalingerinContext.org for researchers interested in advancing available scholarship on Salinger. Most of the bibliographic entries come from academic journals. If you have an academic paper or relevant journal article you’d like to submit, or have us post, please email us or leave a comment.
  2. The “About” category, in addition to this post, will contain information about the site and about other places to find Salinger research (both on the web and in-person).
  3. The most useful items for beginning your research are the “Readers’ Guides.” The guides can be used as discussion and paper prompts, and as an entry into the relevant reviews and critiques of individual texts. These can be found under the “Primary Text Notes” category.
  4. For more information about individual articles and what they cover, visit the “Bibliographical Info” section. This will include the MLA citation (7th Edition) and the opening paragraph of a given work, as well as our brief summarization of the items you’d find in the book or article.
  5. The “Collations” category will contain textual variants in each of Salinger’s stories published in magazines and then later collected for publication. These can also be found under the “Primary Text Notes” category.
  6. The category “Salinger in Context” is of course the real contribution and goal of this site. Here you will find articles on detailed events surrounding Salinger’s life and works, including things like literary and cultural references explained and investigated by interested scholars.
  7. The “Miscellany” category will feature a number of items, most of them less academic and more “of interest” to the general reader/visitor.

MLA Citation for this page:

    Author Last Name, Author First Name. “Title of Post”. Salingerincontext.org. Ed. Elizabeth D. Johnson and Angelica E. Bega-Hart. WordPress, Nov. 2010. Web. Access Date. http://salingerincontext.org.
    Note: Items in bold will change depending on the post being cited

The Influence of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald on J.D. Salinger

Written by Kathy Gabriel December, 2009

As two of the most influential and well-known authors of the 20th century it is not surprising that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway would inspire a great many young writers. The surprise is that one of those young writers would go on to achieve a comparable level of importance to his predecessors in the literary world. Fitzgerald and Hemingway both influenced Jerome David Salinger but in very different ways.

Although J.D. Salinger never met F. Scott Fitzgerald he was still greatly inspired by Fitzgerald through his work.  In his biography of Salinger In Search of J.D. Salinger, Ian Hamilton states that “the authors he most admired were Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Scott Fitzgerald: These three had almost classic status in his mind. (53). As he developed as a writer Salinger came to see himself as following in Fitzgerald’s footsteps and perhaps even achieving what Fitzgerald could not. As Hamilton reports:

In 1941 Salinger would have liked to think he was doing what Scott Fitzgerald had to do. Fitzgerald had died a year earlier, and his legendary aspects were fresh in everybody’s mind. Salinger, in his letters, always spoke warmly of him and took heart from the knowledge that it was the Saturday Evening Post that had supported the writing of the Great Gatsby. In later years he would denounce Fitzgerald’s association with the magazine. For the moment though, he believed that he—Fitzgerald’s successor—could perform a balancing act, which the master himself could never master: between the Nathan and the Woodford worlds, between integrity and commerce (64)

Aside from Fitzgerald’s overall influence on Salinger’s vision for the direction his career would take; there is also evidence that Fitzgerald’s writing directly inspired Salinger’s own works. One prominent example of this is the end of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” which bares a striking resemblance to the end of Fitzgerald’s novelette “May Day,” published in 1920. In his hotel room Fitzgerald’s main character Gordon Sterrett took the revolver he bought at a sporting goods store and fired a shot into his own head “just behind the temple” (Fitzgerald 141). Salinger’s main character, Seymour Glass also committed suicide in a hotel room.

Continue reading The Influence of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald on J.D. Salinger

When Papa met Salinger by Brad McDuffie

MLA Citation:

McDuffie, Bradley R. “When Papa Met Salinger.” Edmonton Journal. McClatchy Newspapers, 23 July 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. <http://www.edmontonjournal.com/index.html>.

Summary:

McDuffie reviews the available information about Salinger’s relationship with Hemingway, which includes references to a letter, recently made publicly available in the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Original Article:

*Reprinted here with permission of the author.
Also available at the following site.

Edmonton Journal

In Time magazine’s 1961 article Sonny, An Introduction, John Skow gave the following account of J.D. Salinger’s meeting with Ernest Hemingway during the Second World War: “In France, Staff Sergeant Salinger had an audience with War Correspondent Ernest Hemingway, who read Salinger’s work and, possibly in appreciation of it (‘Jesus, he has a hell of a talent’), took out his Luger and shot the head off a chicken.”

In the years that followed, almost every Salinger critic has reported some version of this story. But as the half-century anniversary of the infamous chicken myth draws near, it is time, at last, to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, the myth has led scholars to ignore the fact that meeting Hemingway during the war is the most overlooked event in Salinger’s formation as a writer. Considering the meeting involves two of the most influential writers of the 20th century, the oversight is difficult to comprehend. Salinger died in January at age 91; Hemingway, who died in 1961, was born 111 years ago last week (July 21).

By all accounts, Salinger first met Hemingway at the Hotel Ritz after the liberation of Paris in 1944. In a letter dated a couple of weeks later, on Sept. 4, 1944, Salinger tells his editor, Whit Burnett of Story Magazine, that he met Hemingway and found him soft in comparison to the hard, tough demeanour of his prose. Salinger also says Hemingway was generous, friendly and unimpressed by his own reputation.

Continue reading When Papa met Salinger by Brad McDuffie

With Love and Squalor edited by Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller

MLA Citation

Kotzen, Kip, and Thomas Beller. With Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond to the Work of J.d. Salinger. New York: Broadway Books, 2001. Print.

First Paragraph:

“There are a lot of things that most of us would rather not know about J. D. Salinger. What he eats or drinks. What he wears.  What kind of father he is. Or any other of the various sordid details that have surfaced about his personal life in books by Ian Hamilton, Margaret Salinger and Joyce Maynard. Personally, my interest was never in J. D. Salinger the myth. It was always in J. D. Salinger the writer. ”

from the Introduction, page 1

Continue reading With Love and Squalor edited by Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller

Salinger and the Literary Geography of a Real and Fictional New York City

Written by Angelica Bega-Hart, November 2009.

According to Phillip Lapote there are ten themes [1] that occur “obsessively” in fiction written about or situated in New York City. (Lapote, xviii) Though Salinger does not appear at all in Lapote’s bulky anthology, several of those themes are manifest n Salinger’s writing.  As Ruth Prigozy notes,

The local references in Nine Stories clearly indicate a recognizable fictive world: New York City predominates, from the opening line in “A Prefect Day,” set in Miami but alluding to “ninety seven New York advertising men” (3). In “The Laughing Man, ” the precise geography of the city forms a substructure for the double layered story as does the east side of Manhattan for the dramatized encounters of “Just Before the War.” Whether the characters are on vacation, on a ship, in a foreign country, or in a Connecticut suburb of the city, the sensibility of Salinger’s world is firmly established by its references to the sophistication, polish, manners, and locales associated with the New York City of Salinger’s educated upper middle class. (qtd in Bloom, 93)

Certainly, Salinger’s familiarity with the city was an important part of his ability to portray it in a “precise” and stylized manner. And Salinger was as familiar with the city as anyone. Raised in New York, Salinger was born in 1919 to Sol Salinger and Marie (Miriam) Jillich at the Nursery and Child’s Hospital on West 61st Street. “Sonny” as he was nicknamed, went home to 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. As his father’s success increased the family moved to a house on West 82nd Street on the Upper West Side and then later to the fashionable and ritzy Upper East Side, to the building located at 1133 Park Avenue. (Alexander, 31-35) William Maxwell would later argue that Saliner’s childhood gave him a unique perspective on the city that would later dominate the settings for much of his fiction, saying:

JEROME DAVID SALINGER was born in New York City on January 1, 1919. So far as the present population is concerned, there is a cleavage between those who have come to the city as adults and those who were born and raised there, for a New York childhood is a special experience. For one thing, the landmarks have a very different connotation. As a boy Jerry Salinger played on the steps of public buildings that a non-native would recognize immediately and that he never knew the names of. He rode his bicycle in Central Park. He fell into the Lagoon. Those almost apotheosized department stores, Macy’s and Gimbel’s, still mean to him the toy department at Christmas. Park Avenue means taking a cab to Grand Central at the beginning of vacation. (Dead Caulfields [2])

Salinger’s time in New York lasted until his early teens, when he went away to prep school in Pennsylvania, but after a few brief years, he was back in the city of his birth attending college at New York University’s Washington Square College and later taking classes with Whit Burnett at Columbia University.  Perhaps more importantly, Salinger came back to New York at the conclusion of the war and spent time in Greenwich Village where he made connections with other aspiring writers. (Alexander, 114)

Despite Salinger’s New York roots and the tendency of his stories to focus on New Yorkers with overt references to important New York City landmarks, Salinger is not often anthologized as a New York writer. Most often included in anthologies about the Big Apple are earlier writers such as Washington Irving and Walt Whitman and from Salinger’s generation, John Cheever, John Updike, and the Beat poets. One anthology of New York writing that does include Salinger is David Remnick’s Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. In it, Remnick includes stories that “reflect the city’s moods and crises over seventy-five years,” from writers who “are legion” and who have “helped create a powerful and complex portrait of New York.” Most importantly, Remnick says he aims for a “quality of endurance” (Remnick, xii) Remnick apparently sees such a quality in one of Salinger’s earliest short stories, “A Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” which illustrates a scene that would eventually be rewritten (from a different point of view) and incorporated into Salinger’s most famous work, The Catcher in Rye. It remains unclear if, as Paul Alexander suggests, Salinger may have prevented his work from being reproduced in anthologies [3] and whether this fabled decision of Salinger’s is the primary reason for his lack of inclusion in a number of New York anthologies. (Alexander, 24)

Continue reading Salinger and the Literary Geography of a Real and Fictional New York City

J. D. Salinger