Tag Archives: Kingsley Amis

Amis and Salinger: The Latitude of Private Conscience

MLA Citation:

Green, Martin. “Amis and Salinger: The Latitude of Private Conscience.” Chicago Review, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Winter, 1958), 20-25.

First Paragraph:

“J. D. Salinger and Kingsley Amis are brothers, with a common inheritance, tendency, and temperament.”

Summary:

Green points to similarities in the works of Salinger and Kingsley Amis, but says, “… the point is not that they are so similar, as that they are so different from everybody else.” (21) Green notes ways in which their styles differ from the Modernists, notably Hemingway , Faulkner, James, and Kafka. By comparison he says, Salinger and Amis are more playful with language and themselves, noting their sentences are “strikingly personal, self-conscious, clumsy, [and] “clever.” (21)

He notes that they write about similar people and stresses that this is why the sentences quoted from both authors’ characters are “equally the utterance of the author.” (22) Green states that the “crucial category … is the phony.” (22) The effort to be not phony and also not too kind or rude to those who are phonies leaves both authors’ heroes “unable to live a normal life” as they “fight a perpetual guerilla war with the ordinary world.” (22)

Green suggests that in spite of “temperamental and national differences” their situations have a similarity as well. He presents Amis as more interested in the squalid world and less forgiving of his characters, noting that Salinger’s central characters are “beautiful and much loved” and “never lose their natural dignity.” (22) Green also emphasizes that both writers are connected by their attention to characters’ language, specifically their slang and that their level of personalization is what separates them from other “comic” writers.

Moreover, Green says, the characters gain even more similarity during the serious points of their works. He labels both Salinger’s and Amis’s heroes as “puritanical” and “pedagogical,” noting how difficult it is to make characters sympathetic at the same time. (*Editor’s Note: While there is some didacticism in the example he gives of Franny speaking to Zooey, and even, it could be argued, some fanaticism, it is difficult I think to make the case that all of Salinger’s characters are this way.)

The main problem both writers tackle, Green argues, is “how to take one’s place in intelligent, privileged, ruling-class society–which presents itself to both of them as horribly inadequate and dangerous.” (24) Green asserts that Salinger and Amis provide “at last a positive , life-giving alternative” to the Modernism of Hemingway, Faulkner, Greene, Waugh, McCullers and others. (25)

Between Grief and High Delight: The Glass Menageries of J.D. Salinger & Tennessee Williams

Creative Commons License Written by Angelica Bega Hart. December 2009. The author wishes to note that this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

"The Glass Menagerie" cover

The Glass Menagerie (user uploaded image from Good Reads)

Critics have often examined the underlying significance of religion in J.D. Salinger’s short fiction. This is entirely appropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because what little we know about Salinger’s biography suggests that he avidly followed a number of religious traditions. As a young man growing up in a mixed religious household, as a Jewish soldier in World War II, and as more than a dilettante in the area of alternative spiritualities including Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and even at one point, Dianetics, Salinger’s attention to religion seems tantamount to understanding his work.  Moreover, there are both overt and covert references to Eastern and Western spiritualities in his fiction.  The relevance of religious criticism has often predominated critical attention to Salinger’s 1957 novella Zooey.

Critical attention which has not centered on religion has often focused instead on elements of character or on the ephiphanic moment during the narrative’s climax. Seymour’s “Fat Lady” is one such primary target for debate. Furthermore, many psychoanalytic critics have investigated the relationship between Zooey and his mother Bessie. However, all of these critics may have missed an important corollary to Zooey, in Tennessee Williams’ popular 1944 drama, The Glass Menagerie. Apart from a mention in Gwynn and Blotner, [1] contending that Salinger fills a void left by post-war writers including Williams, and a brief, punning nudge to the play in Charles Poore’s New York Times Review of Franny and Zooey, [2] there is little mention of any connection between these two works of post WWII American fiction. While there are important differences as well, these works share more than a passing resemblance to one another.  These similarities are most evident in the three main characters of each narrative. Other details of the stories mimic one another as well, as both employ elements of Romanticism and struggle with the idea of virtue. Both also deal with time and performativity in interesting ways in order to connect those elements thematically to the narratives. And ironically, both create some of the same mythic and symbolic connections.

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