a seymour misunderstood: hints of envy and terror

The ambiguity was strongest about Seymour, who is regarded by the surviving Glasses as something of a Holy Man. But there are hints in Franny and Zooey that coexistence with a saint, living or dead, can have its drawbacks and that Seymour’s sainthood itself is open to question. Zooey senses quite clearly that Seymour has deformed them all, however lovingly, and that he has ultimately destroyed their peace through his suicide; why else would there be talk about having to forgive him? These hints of discord within the cozy Glass club become downright thunderous in Seymour: An Introduction, perhaps the most misunderstood and least discussed of J.D. Salinger’s stories…

Read More:http://www.full-stop.net/2011/06/07/features/essays/amanda/after-precocity-j-d-salinger/

It is generally assumed that the title means what it says and that this is a story about Seymour; but i is as much, if not more so, a story about the narrator Buddy Glass. The story’s overwhelming mannerisms, the convolutions, endless digressions and apologies, the narrator’s asides to himself and to the reader, the ramblings toward and away from the subject, are usually dismissed as Salinger’s sel-indulgence of thought or sloppiness of style. But when Buddy Glass writes things like “with a striking resemblance to-alley oop- and myself,” or ” I live alone ( but catless I’d like everybody to know),” or ” I would to God the reader had something terrible to tell me first ( O you out there – with your enviable golden silence),” or “I privately say to you, old friend ( unto you, really, I’m afraid), please accept me from this unpretentious bouquet of very early blooming parentheses: (((())))” or simply, in self-admonition: “(stop that now)” – Salinger is not speaking in his own voice but again in “character.”

True, the style uncomfortably recalls Salinger’s own self-consciousness in his jacket blurb to Franny and Zooey or in his rare, early magazine notes about himself; it sounds like a wild caricature of those things. But the story is an indirect character portrait of Buddy Glass. In one of those first-person narratives which many of the literary experts dislike, Salinger is letting us see and guess the personality of a weirdly, fantastically self conscious and mannered writer on the point of breaking down under the strain of living with Seymour’s ghost.

There are hints not only that it was always difficult to live with the near-saintly Seymour but also that his saintliness as well as his talent may have been exaggerated by his family.Along with genuine love for the dead man there are hints of envy and of terror. When Buddy exclaims,”Why does this exhaust me so? The hands are sweating, the bowels churning?” or “This last little pentimento, or whatever it is, has started me sweating literally from head to foot,” Salinger is forcing us to witness a crak-up far more severe than Franny’s, and motivated far less simply. He is showing us that the members of the Glass club may be paying a high price for that cozy withdrawal from the world, that refuge which had earlier seemed so enviable and, to some, so cute.

The method of the telling is admittedly devious. The author plays games with the reader and with reality when he makes Buddy Glass soun like the author of Catcher in The Rye and makes Buddy the butt of familiar rumors, such as the Buddhist monastery and the snatorium that circulated about Salinger; it may be an irritating private joke, but it also has a literary purpose. In theatrical terms Salinger is trying to destroy the proscenium; to bring the audience completely into the action, to make them forget what is real and what is not.

The same is true of the rambling, fussy style, the neurotic asides, the clinical notes, that ooze from the narrator. Whatever the result, it should be recognized that it is a method and not merely self-indulgence and sloppiness. But it does work well, though not something to be attempted frequently, and Seymour may be Salinger’s most impressive story. Despite objections to Salinger’s manner and technique, John Updike said of Seymour, “The willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions is what distinguishes artists from entertainers.”

In a curious way the convulsions of Seymour, the carefully built up struggle between Salinger-Buddy and the subject matter, recall the old literary theme of The Revolt of the Puppets. If the story is a form of ventriloquism, the dummy seems to be taking over- recalling Cavalcanti’s film Dead of Night, in which a ventriloquist played by Michael Redgrave, was engaged in a schizoid and deadly struggle with the painted wooden figure he used in his act and which gradually became a hostile incarnation of his own other self. Whether any of this reflects real problems the real Salinger may be having with his series about the Glasses is not known and is perhaps beside the point. As a work of fiction, Seymour is fascinating partly because it suggests a struggle on the edge of sanity, a rebellion of puppet against puppeteer.


( see link at end) …The Glass family stories are what Janet Malcolm, in her vindicating essay “Justice to J.D. Salinger,” brilliantly termed “fables of otherness—versions of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis.’” “We’re freaks, that’s all,” Zooey Glass puts it, “we’re the Tattooed Lady.” Born to an Irish-Catholic mother and a Jewish father, a former vaudeville duo (Bessie and Les), the seven Glass siblings each appeared as children on a fictional radio quiz show called It’s a Wise Child where, under pseudonyms, they were misunderstood by enthusiastic listeners on a weekly basis. Hopelessly intellectual and bewilderingly eclectic, their spiritual guide is their eldest brother, Seymour, whose name—see more—suggests his saint-like omniscience. Seymour raises his brothers and sisters on a mixture of Christian, Vedantic and Buddhist philosophy, as well as a selection of literary classics both eastern and western, immortalized in “Zooey” in a collection of quotations that fill the inside of the door to Seymour and Buddy’s shared childhood bedroom. Buddy is the second oldest sibling, a writer and in later years English professor at an unnamed women’s college in upstate New York as well as Seymour’s closest confidant and the frequent narrator of these tales. The youngest two are Zooey, an actor, preternaturally handsome, and Franny, a colle

unior, an actress, and a student of literature discontent with the pursuit of knowledge.

Seymour’s most powerful and most inscrutable lesson to his protégés is his suicide on a vacation in Florida with his wife described in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the first story in the collection Nine Stories. His death reverberates through the lives of his younger siblings who struggle to live in a world without him. In Franny and Zooey, Buddy, too, has receded from family life and, to the best of his ability, social life. He lives in a cabin in the woods without a telephone, much to Bessie’s quite verbal distress, meanwhile refusing to disconnect the telephone in the childhood bedroom he shared with Seymour, as though a call might come through any minute…

…The real subject of these stories is not ego, or the renunciation of ego, but their paradoxical sameness. Suicide might be the ultimate enlightenment for Seymour, but it is also the ultimate act of selfishness. Similarly, the Glasses may be spiritually advanced (as Seymour claims they are), but they are first and foremost a family of intellectuals and performers. Franny and Zooey are actors, Seymour and Buddy writers, and they are all the children of vaudevillians. Franny’s breakdown takes the form of a spiritual crisis, but it is equally catalyzed by academic burnout. (Franny’s problem is that of all the Glass siblings—she is so brilliant that mere brilliance bores her.)Read More:http://www.full-stop.net/2011/06/07/features/essays/amanda/after-precocity-j-d-salinger/

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