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On Three Miraculous Characters in Nine Stories
English and American literature
There are three characters in J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories more marvelous than any of the premature or even more sophisticated characters in his other works. They are Seymour Glass in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the Laughing Man, the hero of John Gedsudski's story in "The Laughing Man," and Teddy in the short story of that name. Their distinction is marked by a talent to see more than other human beings are allowed and by their choice of death. This thesis discusses the connection between their miraculous talent and their death, taking into consideration their relationship to society and to the people around them.
In "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Seymour's wife and mother-in-law are depicted in a critical and harsh tone, while Seymour himself reserves his critical comments against them. His story of banana fish, which gives the story its title, shows that Seymour is abnormal and that he is to blame for his own death. The inconsistency between the characterization and the thematic meaning of bananafish, however, is not observed in "The Laughing Man." The narrator of the story can see things both from the ideal side, represented by the Laughing Man, and from the realistic one, represented by Mary Hudson. The narrator can sympathize with the both sides and realizes the conflict between them by perceiving John Gedsudski's inability to stay as the Comanche's leader. "Teddy" tries to solve the conflict faced by the narrator of "The Laughing Man" from the transcendental view, Teddy ignores, however, all human feelings, which we cannot neglect. What is worse, we can never completely believe, like Teddy, in the world beyond death. And, if we could, it is in this present world that we are living and need solutions. In the end, "Teddy" only indicates the direction in which to seek for a solution.
As Salinger observes, these three miraculous characters cannot keep up with the society, and so he lets them die to show that even our full commitment to them will not solve the problems of this world. Still, by making Seymour's and the Laughing Man's deaths sad, Salinger also intimates that we cannot live a full life without following their life styles. These conflicting attitudes coexist more and more explicitly in Salinger's later works, along with his aversion to American middle class materialism and his admiration to their energy to survive. As a result, what Salinger offers to his readers is a most difficult and sad way of life, much like the narrator of "The Laughing Man." But it is at least an honest and sincere way of living, and many of his young readers seem to sympathize more with this awkward way of living rather than some other clever or bold way, which is after all only a superficial and compromising solution to their predicaments.
Studies in American Literature
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Graduate School of Letters