Tag Archives: Just Before the War with the Eskimos

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.

J.D. Salinger: The Fat Lady and the Chicken Sandwich by James E. Bryan

MLA Citation:

Bryan, James E. “J. D. Salinger: The Fat Lady and the Chicken Sandwich.” College English 23.3 (1961): 226-29. Print.

First Paragraph:

Critics have rightly complained that J.D. Salinger’s “Glass family chronicles” [citation omitted] lack the superb poetry and economy of his Nine Stories period. However the garrulity of Salinger’s recent narrators provides a not unwelcome annotation of symbolism and underlining of theme which can often serve as a reference to the interpretations of earlier stories.

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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.

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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.

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)

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The Hyphenated Ham Sandwich of Ernest Hemingway and J D Salinger: A Study in Literary Continuity by William Goldhurst

Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1970
Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1970

MLA Citation:

Goldhurst, William. “The Hyphenated Ham Sandwich of Ernest Hemingway and J. D. Salinger: A Study in Literary Continuity.” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1970, pp. 136-150.

First Paragraph:

“In his influential book on Ernest Hemingway, Phillip Young contends that “there is little in Hemingway-and next to nothing  of ultimate importance-that has not its precedents” in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Young bases this claim on parallels that emerge from a comparison of Twain’s boy-hero Huck and Hemingway’s fictional heroes, but especially the prototype-hero Nick Adams as he appears in the story collection In Our Time. After a detailed and convincing presentation of similarities, Young concludes that Huck and Nick are nearly identical persons who are “very nearly twins.” Furthermore, says Young, “the adventures of the generic Nick Adams are the adventures of Huckleberry Finn in our time,’the main difference being only that “at the very point where Twain found his boy too complex, and let him go, Hemingway has exploited his condition, and raised him to complicated manhood.'” (136)

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The Fiction of J.D. Salinger

MLA Citation:

Gwynn, Frederick L. and Joseph L. Blotner. The Fiction of J.D. Salinger. Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958. Print.

Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner’s slender volume of commentary addresses the bulk of Salinger’s oeuvre. The body of the book is divided into three convenient sections and seven sections in total comprise the work.

First Paragraph:

“For the future historian, the most significant fact about American literary culture of the Post-War period may be that whereas young readers of the Inter-War period knew intimately the work of a goodly number of coeval writers (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Wolfe, Sinclair Lewis, for example), the only Post-War fiction unanimously approved by contemporary literate American youth consists of about five hundred pages by Jerome David Salinger.”

Summary:

The Fiction of J. D. Salinger (library copy)
The Fiction of J. D. Salinger (library copy)

Introduction

The introductory section details the prevailing critical responses to Salinger’s work. They briefly describe the critical stance of critics Heiserman and Miler, David Stevenson, Ihab Hassan, Leslie Fiedler, Donald Barr, William Wiegand, and Maxwell Geismar, though they do not engage with their theoretical stances in the introduction.

Gwynn and Blotner also identify “For Esme-With Love and Squalor” the “high point of Salinger’s art” (for more information, see the “For Esme…” readers guide).

The Long Debut: The Apprentice Period (1940-1948)

This section discusses the twenty or so stories that appeared largely in magazines such as Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, but also in a handful of others such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping). Gwynn and Blotner describe these  as being of five types, “The Short Short Stories,” “The Lonely Girl Characterizations,” “The Destroyed Artist Melodramas,” “The Marriage in Wartime Group,” and “The Caulfield Stories.”

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