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Listen to the Echo of Silence: Sound in Salinger’s Nine Stories

By Sam Wang, V Form

Listen to the Echo of Silence: Sound in Salinger’s Nine Stories

J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories opens with a Zen koan: “We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping?” Reading through the book, the audience may find the unusual plots and characters do not make sense when interpreted logically. The only breakthrough to these unresolved and thought-provoking endings of Salinger’s stories is through reflecting on “the sound of one hand clapping,” to break the logic and hear the impossible sound.

In the first story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the conversation between Seymour, a veteran of the war, and the little girl Sybil seems random but profound. For instance, Seymour talks to Sybil in a nonsensical way. When asking where is Sybil from, Seymour playfully annoys her by asking, “Is that anywhere near Whirly Wood, Connecticut, by any chance” (Salinger 21).  Seymour suggests to Sybil what they can do after going to the water: “we’ll see if we can catch a bananafish,” and when Sybil mentions another child, Sharon Lipschutz, Seymour says to himself, “how the name comes up. Mixing memory and desire” (Salinger 19). The audience may find Seymour strange at first sight. However, looking back to his interaction with Sybil after knowing about Seymour’s suicide at the end, these words may intrigue the audience to think about their connotations. Seymour implies his suffering in the postwar society by bananafish, and he longs for spiritual salvation by Sybil, an innocent child, when almost everyone around him is acting like a bananafish.

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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…)

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…)