Family To Transition 5 Year Old Boy To A Girl Zen and the Art of the Glass Family in JD Salinger’s Short Stories

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Zen and the Art of the Glass Family in JD Salinger’s Short Stories

Although J.D. Salinger is best known for his 1951 classic The Catcher in the Rye, his own favorite work centered around a family of brilliant, aloof, eccentric ex-prodigies known as the Spectacles. (Think The Royal Tenenbaums, only with vaudeville performer parents.) In these short stories, Salinger not only fleshes out his most cherished works, but also fleshes out his relationship with Zen Buddhism, which he studied for decades. Following these stories over the years shows a gradual development of Salinger’s approach to spirituality, moving from the very physical to the very abstract.

In Perfect Day for Bananafish, first published in 1948, Salinger introduces Seymour Glass, the oldest and most likable of the Glass siblings. While vacationing on a beach in Florida on their honeymoon, Seymour befriends a young girl named Sybil, whom he entertains with jokes, conversation, and good old fashioned play. On their last day together, Seymour tells her a story about a fantastic, greedy creature called a “banana fish” that lives (in a pineapple?) under the sea. As the story goes, these fish swim into holes, stuff themselves with bananas until they are too big to escape, and tragically die of “banana fever.” A powerful story of falling in love for a four-year-old, yes, but the fact that Seymour then goes back to the hotel and shoots himself gives us a bit more pause for thought than if the day ended with, say, a picnic.

While the ending of A Perfect Day for Banana Fish is undeniably disturbing, one interpretation of Seymour’s story about Banana Fish that seems to explain things is that it is an allegory for the rampant post-World War II consumerism that Seymour so vehemently opposes. And when Sybil happily exclaims that she does indeed see a banana fish in the water, Seymour is convinced that he IS a banana fish (goo goo g’joob); Realizing that he’s just as caught up in the physical world as the next guy, he returns to his luxurious hotel resort to take his own life. It is still debatable whether his death represents a symbolic surrender to banana fever or a final stand against the material world, leaving it behind.

When Franny and Zooey was published in 1961, Salinger’s spiritual interests were more evident in his writing than in Bananafish, but less viscerally. “Frannie” tells the story of a spiritually turbulent weekend with Seymour’s younger sibling, Frannie, who, like Seymour, wants to completely redefine her relationship with the physical world. Inspired by a nineteenth-century religious text, Franny loses interest in her studies, her friends, and her basic survival instincts, eventually dying of lack of food. This “rupture” from the physical echoes Seymour’s death a few years earlier, though to a much lesser degree.

In “Zooey,” Salinger’s exploration of spirituality becomes even more intangible. After her dramatic fainting spell, Franny returns home hysterical and refuses to return to college. However, thanks to her older brother Zooey, she comes to a real realization: Zooey not only points out her own self-righteousness by making a dramatic performance of what should be a deeply personal experience, but also reminds her to appreciate everything around her – including mom’s “sanctified chicken soup ” – instead of looking for it on the mountain tops.

By the time Salinger published Raise the Roof High, Carpenter sand Seymour: an Introduction in 1963, his literary approach to Zen Buddhism had become extremely abstract. “Raise the Roof Beam High, Carpenters” attempts to retell the day of Seymour’s wedding party as told by his little brother, Buddy. However, “Seymour: an Introduction” takes on the more demanding challenge of explaining Seymour for himself – not for the reader, but for Buddy. In this sense, writing becomes a process of discovery not only for Buddy, but also for the reader, whose task it is to figure out what Buddy is really talking about.

Criticized for being pretentious, flashy, and “unbearably dull,” it’s hard at first to see how Seymour: an Introduction is supposed to bring a higher level of clarity to the overall spiritual trajectory of Glass’s novels. However, what some people don’t know is that Salinger is playing with the idea of ​​a Zen koan, a puzzle to be understood mentally rather than cerebrally (see also: one-handed flourish). Just think of Seymour’s advice to “try not to aim so much” in a Ball game; after all, “If you hit when you aim for it, it’s just luck.” Whether this is a clever literary strategy or just convenient bad writing remains a matter of personal interpretation.

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