De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period
by J.D. Salinger
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)
The narrator of "Jean de Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" is a nameless man, looking back at his nineteen-year-old self. He focuses on the year, 1939, just after the death of his mother. We don't know precisely how old the narrator is now. He claims to be writing sometime after 1947, the year of his stepfather Bobby's death. We like to think that he's twenty-nine. Wouldn't that be perfect? Twenty-nine is the "official" age of Jean de Daumier-Smith.
While he doesn't give us his real name, or his current age, his fancy pseudonym, Jean De Daumier-Smith (see "What's Up With the Title?" for the lowdown on that), is gleefully provided. As you probably know, J.D. Salinger is notorious for his unreliable narrators and narrative games. Whenever a narrator (or anyone else for that matter) refuses to provide his or her real name, we can assume we are dealing with someone unreliable, someone that might not be giving us the truth. That doesn't necessarily mean he or she is a bad person. J.D. Salinger himself is notorious for being protective of his privacy. Maybe this narrator just wants to protect his privacy, lest reports start coming around asking embarrassing questions about his past.
This anonymity of the narrator also helps provide a universal appeal. He could be anyone. He could be just like you. One of the very first things we learn is that the story we are about to read isn't going to make "sense." By announcing his unreliability throughout the story, Jean is acknowledging our own stories that don't make sense.
Some readers think the narrator was insane during the time after his mother's death, and that his experiences are hallucinations. Other readers imagine that the story is all a dream or a fantasy. We think the narrator's unreliability is an invitation to relax and let the story work on our senses and emotions, and to not try too hard to figure things out.
This doesn't mean we can't try to analyze "Blue Period" logically. For example, we are first told that Jean moved to Paris in 1930, and then "back to New York, nine years later, three months after my mother died" (2). We are later told that "in May of 1939" Jean and Bobby had been in New York City for ten months (6). This doesn't add up. Like Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's most famous piece, The Catcher in the Rye, our narrator doesn't have a very good grip on time.
This is important to notice because some readers might think that the older narrator is reliable, while his younger self is not. The problems with the calendar are one indication this is not true. The narrator might have changed since his time as Jean, but he's still confused, but basically good-hearted and likeable. This is why we trust him, even though we don't trust him. If we are lucky, we all have a friend like Jean. He's the guy who can always cheer you up with his funny stories and quirky ways, though he can be temperamental and needs his space. Whatever wild thing he tells us, we know that there is some grain of wisdom, irony, or gorgeous picture.