De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period
by J.D. Salinger
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Noses are important in "Blue Period." In Jean's "Character Analysis" we discuss the significance of the moment where "the sun came up and sped toward the bridge of [his] nose at the rate of ninety-three million miles a second" (83). There doesn't seem to be anything symbolic going here, unless you remember that this isn't Jean's first nose experience. He mentions another in his unsent letter to Sister Irma:
The happiest day of my life was many years ago when I was seventeen. I was on my way for lunch to meet my mother, who was going out on the street for the first time after a long illness, and I was feeling ecstatically happy when suddenly, as I was coming in to the Avenue Victor Hugo, which is a street in Paris, I bumped into a chap without any nose. I ask you to please consider that factor, in fact I beg you. It is quite pregnant with meaning. (68)
This is one of the most mysterious moments in the text. We can think of it as a Zen Kōan. As we discuss in "What's Up With the Epigraph?" a Kōan is similar to a riddle, and is meant to be an object of meditation. You can't necessarily "solve" a Kōan through logic and analysis only. To get at the meaning of a Kōan, we need to use our imaginations, our senses, our emotions. The meaning of a Kōan can't be taught, and changes from one person to the next.
We'll give you a few things we came up with. On the one hand, this might be Jean being "ribald" again. A guy like Jean says "pregnant with meaning" and we know there is a dirty joke in there. In a footnote to Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Passages in the Life of A Lion" (a story about a man with a fabulous nose), editor G.R. Thompson states that "the nose, in folk and literary tradition, is a metaphor for the penis" (Selected Writings, 129, note 7).
But wait, the man Jean saw was without a nose. Metaphor for the penis, or plain old nose, that sounds painful. But we all know that such extremes are the mainstays of comedy.
We don't know if seeing the man made Jean happy, or if it was something that happened after that. We know he was happy before he saw the man. We know he was on his way to meet his mother, who had been ill. Maybe this was the last time he saw her. Maybe she died right after the meeting. Maybe the extreme happiness he was feeling on his way to see her continued through the visit. Maybe the man with no nose had nothing to do with the happiness. He could be seen as a harbinger to Jean's mother's death. What is creepier than a guy with no nose on a brightly lit street?
The noseless man also foreshadows Jean's second epiphany. In the first epiphany the symbols of human waste, decay and amputation in the orthopedic shop window disgust him – producing a kind of mental stink. In the second epiphany he re-imagines these "bedpans and urinals" as flowers – we all know that most flowers smell sweet. The man with no nose can be seen as a completely nonjudgmental person, a person to whom nothing human stinks.
Or, as Terence, Roman slave turned master of Greek comedy, famously said, "I consider nothing human alien to me." He also said, "While there's life there's hope," and "many men, many minds!" Salinger may have had these words in mind when he wrote this "Blue Period." In a way, this sums up the outcome of Jean's journey, as we discuss in "What's Up With the Ending?"Using a combination of logical deduction and emotional reaction we offer our solution to the Kōan of the man with no nose. As you can see, it's not neat and tidy, and asks more questions than it answers. It also leaves plenty of room for your interpretations.