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Spiritual and Intellectual Challenges

By Daniella Pozo, V Form

Spiritual and Intellectual Challenges

In “Teddy,” J.D. Salinger provides the reader with an onslaught of observations and religious teachings in order to challenge even the most highly educated. Through Nicholson’s eyes, the audience feels hostility towards Teddy stemming from deeply ingrained American close-mindedness. How the reader experiences the ensuing conversations depends on one’s ability to welcome doubt. The core story is not meant to sway one’s spiritual beliefs in any direction but rather to make one aware of how susceptible or hostile they are. Themes of American elitism and consumerism seep into Nicholson’s everyday life and nearly keep him from considering any outside perspectives. Through the character of Nicholson, Salinger challenges the reader to focus on nuance and open consideration of ideas instead of focusing on the objective correctness or conclusion to spirituality. 

Nicholson is introduced as a young man with “a kind of poise about him” and wearing a jacket “properly aged in some of the more popular postgraduate seminars at Yale, or Harvard, or Princeton” (Salinger 76). The audience identifies with Nicholson because he seems to be respectable and highly educated. Among his circle, there exist two views: those who are premature to devalue radically different ideas and those that hail those ideas as pure genius. Teddy is a novelty to the Leidekker examining group who choose to play his tape at a party, a setting that trivializes Teddy’s insights and the research process. Nicholson does not approach Teddy out of good faith or love of research but rather because he wants to disprove Teddy for his own ego. He interrupts Teddy and disrespects his beliefs by calling them “mystical” (78). His voice and demeanor falsely suggest that he is above most Americans who do not want to engage with differing ideas. When Teddy decides to teach and ask him how he knows his arm is truly an arm, Nicholson is defensive. This reaction aligns with the resistant attitude American audiences may feel towards Teddy’s personality, insights, and spiritual beliefs. Unfortunately, Nicholson can not understand the merits or downfalls of Teddy’s arguments until he can genuinely engage with them first. Salinger is demanding the audience set aside any preconceived notions so they may understand “what [their] arm really is, if [they’re] interested” (79). In order to read Nicholson’s journey and draw conclusions, readers must balance their American socialization and academic nature. 

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The Essence of Luminescence: Light in The Great Gatsby

By Frances Hornbostel, V Form

The Essence of Luminescence: Light in The Great Gatsby

In The Great Gatsby, light is emblematic of the uncanny attraction to Jay Gatsby’s wealth and power, illuminating the warmth and clarity it brings as well as its isolation and superficiality. Light is ever-present throughout the novel, reflecting changes from dark, tempestuous times to brighter, more jubilant ones. These lighting shifts can be controlled by natural forces, immune to man’s intervention, or manipulated through artificial lighting, bought and directed by the buyer. Gatsby’s life, a whirlpool of bright lights ornamenting his extravagant wealth, is overwhelmingly attractive to those around him. He draws them in like moths to a flame as Nick notes early on, witnessing one of Gatsby’s ostentatious parties. Gatsby’s manipulation of light to highlight positive aspects of himself shows his attempts to control how people perceive him, further revealing the powers of isolation and superficiality light can have. Light is particularly revelatory in chapter five, where Gatsby’s manipulation is paramount in fabricating a perfect meeting with Daisy, the woman he has loved for the five years they have been apart. 

After Gatsby invites Daisy over to his house, she excitedly brings him over to the window to show him that “the rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea” (Fitzgerald 94). Chapter five is set in isolation, away from mistresses, husbands, and reality, allowing Daisy and Gatsby to exist, for this chapter, at least, in a timeless state of idyllic bliss. However, the storm still raged, Tom was still a man bursting out in bouts of anger while was cheating with Myrtle, and their marriage still constricted Daisy at the ring finger. Daisy refuses to face these realities in chapter five as she lets herself float in the almost tangible softness of the pastel-painted clouds above the horizon, existing precariously between a storm and the raging force of the sea. Yet, rain is still falling around them, illustrating gravity’s heavy push on the dark elements outside of the floating oasis of billowing clouds that Daisy envisions, seemingly untouchable by gravity. The fragility of this state that is too perfect to be true alludes to its disintegration as reality hits after chapter five. 

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Tantalizing Taboos: Homoerotic Language in The Great Gatsby

By Catie Summers, V Form

Tantalizing Taboos: Homoerotic Language in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald does a fantastic job of lacing taboos throughout The Great Gatsby. The most common, however, is homosexuality and homoerotica. Of course, the outlook on homosexuality and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years. It was quite negative and derogatory during the time of the story, commonly referred to as the Roaring Twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald incorporates aspects of homosexuality in The Great Gatsby through the narrator, Nick Carraway, and his interactions with other male characters throughout the novel. Specifically, Nick’s descriptive language carries a homoerotic affect, meaning his presence in the narrative invites, at least, a queer reading of The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald premiers Nick’s homoerotic tone in his description of male characters, particularly in Tom Buchanan. When Nick first meets Tom, Nick speaks as though in reverence of Tom’s physique by stating, “not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his coat” (Fitzgerald 7). This passage has a sexual appeal to it, a climax, one might argue. Fitzgerald alludes to this by tantalizingly and purposely influencing readers to anticipate a sexual reference after “he seemed to fill those glistening…” but then dropping off and finishing with the word “boots.” By primarily setting a homoerotic tone for Nick’s description, it is natural to assume that this phrase should be an innuendo or euphemism. Yet, Fitzgerald’s writing is so meticulous and nuanced that by ending the phrase with the word “boots,” he allows an ambiguous reading of the phrase, implying a simple in-depth physical description of a character or a subtle hint as to Nick’s sexual tendencies and a queer side to his character unrecognizable before that point. 

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America: A Country of Apple-Eaters (Salinger’s “Teddy”)

By Minjae (Izzy) Kim, V Form

America: A Country of Apple Eaters (Salinger’s “Teddy”)

A seven-year-old child is in a math class learning simple addition and subtraction of single digit numbers. To logically approach this mathematical concept, the instructor employs the analogy of cookies; she asks, “If your mom left four cookies on the table, but your sister took two of the cookies, how many cookies can you eat?” A smart and logical child raises his hand and says, “I can eat two cookies!” and the teacher rewards him with a lollipop for correctly answering the question. However, according to Salinger, that child does not deserve a lollipop because he only answered the question logically, not spiritually. Although logic is the primary approach people take to solve most problems, in “Teddy” from Nine Stories, Salinger highlights the conflict between spirituality and logic and uses this dichotomy to guide the readers in interpreting the enigmatic epigraph. To accomplish this, Salinger kills Teddy at the end of the story to verify Teddy’s esoteric wisdom of spirituality, condemn the American view on spirituality, and usher the readers to interpret things spiritually rather than logically. (more…)

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Reflections on Miller’s The Crucible

By Carrick Zhu, V Form

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Reflections on Miller’s The Crucible

A lack of decency and empathy has caused many unnecessary deaths and trauma throughout history. As Joseph Welch once asked Senator McCarthy during the “Red Scare” hearings, “Have you left no decency?” [1] The Salem Witch Trials depicted by Arthur Miller in The Crucible took place more than three hundred years ago, yet Miller’s message has not lost its relevance in modern society. The hysteria surrounding the story still has the potential to reoccur in America. Arthur Miller portrays the evil side of humanity through the trials by depicting the selfishness, impressionability, and the atrocities committed because of fear. These characteristics portrayed in The Crucible remain poignant today because of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Red Scare of the 1920’s, and the Third Reich regiment. (more…)

Maturity and Youth: Connection in “For Esme, with Love and Squalor”

By: Helynna Lin, V Form

 

Maturity and Youth: Connection in “For Esme, with Love and Squalor”

In J.D.Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye, the rebellious teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield, leaves school and wanders in New York City, trying to resolve his hatred towards the ingenuine, superficial adult world and his nostalgia of youthful innocence. The theme, conflict between youth and maturity, is continued in Salinger’s short story, “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” The story takes place in an English town where American soldier Sergeant X prepares himself for battle and meets Esme, a 13-year-old girl who has recently lost her parents in war. They have a good conversation, at the end of which they promise each other to exchange letters. After D-Day, Sergeant X experiences a mental breakdown and loses the courage to live, but the arrival of Esme’s letter brings him strength to continue living. In this story, the wartime and battlefield are representative of the dark sides of society, and the two characters are symbols of adults and adolescents. By describing the connection between Esme and Sergeant X, Salinger proposes that youth and maturity can resolve one another’s struggles and fight against the downsides of society. (more…)