Tag Archives: The Laughing Man

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.

The Laughing Man Glove and Ball

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.

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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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Gwynn and Blotner with Faulkner at the University of Virginia

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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