De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period
by J.D. Salinger
Coming-of-Age, Modernism, Surrealism, Literary Fiction, Satire and Parody, Tragicomedy
As is the case here, the coming-of-age stories feature a young person struggling to make the transition from kid to grownup, often before he or she is ready. In the case of "Blue Period" the death of Jean's mother gives him a cruel independence that he has no idea how to deal with.
OK, we take that back. He most definitely does have an idea of how to deal with it – through creative acts, through art. The story is artful. As we discuss in "Writing Style" we can look at this story as an art gallery full of a wide range of pictures. This technique places it within two overlapping genres, "Surrealism" and "Modernism." Both of these movements were in full swing in the 1920s.
Like "Blue Period" Surrealist works can't be looked at too logically. They are meant to appeal to the subconscious, to free the readers' (or viewers') minds from blind acceptance of the rules and norms of society. We suggest in "Writing Style" and "Setting" that nineteen-year-old Jean lives a kind of waking dream, where bus seats magically appear on sidewalks, and the sun attacks people's noses. Surrealist works are supposed to simulate the dream state – the dream theories of Sigmund Freud heavily influenced many Surrealist thinkers.
Much of the same could be said of Modernism. The distinctions between the two genres are slightly blurry. Modernism is very focused on fractures, breakages, and splits. Check out this painting by Jean's dear friend Pablo Picasso. Particularly after World War I, Modernist writer felt that new forms were necessary to reflect the shattering effect this war had on the minds of the people, but suggests that something helpful can be made of the pieces.
Glance over at the Picasso picture again. Notice how it attracts the eyes to all its different components at once, causing them to dance from one aspect to the next. It resists being taken as a whole. Like "Blue Period" the parts are just as important than the whole. In fact, there might not even be a whole. Picasso's form is called "cubism" and you can read more about it by clicking here.
Sounds a little fancy, doesn't it? That's why we put it under "Literary Fiction." Works in this genre are concerned with producing something of quality. This can sometimes seem pretentious, silly or contrived, unless "Satire and Parody" are at work to balance things out, and lighten the mood. Jean, with his French phrasing and high standards disrupts any serious discussion he gets into with jokes. The whole thing has a kind of slapstick feel to it, and it seems like a parody of an adventure story. Instead of a gallant, strong, and chivalrous hero we have Jean, our neurotic artist. If you've seen the films of Woody Allen, you've probably run across one of these characters. On the other hand, one could make a strong argument that this is the story of Jean's spiritual adventure.
While "Parody" mimics humorously, "Satire" is concerned with pointing out problems in a witty and often humorous way. What is being satirized here? For one thing, the story seems to suggest that taking art too seriously isn't necessarily the best thing to do. "Satire and Parody" are also important aspects of "Surrealism" and "Modernism."
OK, we're wrapping up this genre extravaganza with "Tragicomedy." On a literal level this is a story about how Jean deals with a personal tragedy, the death of his mother. One way he deals with it is with humor and downright silliness. It's easy to see how the book is a "Tragicomedy." So laugh and cry to your heart's content.