by J.D. Salinger
Teddy Theme of Mortality
"Teddy" explores many tenets of Eastern religious philosophy, but most importantly the idea of reincarnation. Main character Teddy McArdle insists that death is merely the death of the body; the soul continues on to its next life. At the end of all of these lives, Teddy explains, man gets to stay with God instead of returning to a mortal life. (The text cites this as the "Vedantic theory of reincarnation.") Because of this belief, Teddy maintains that death is nothing tragic, nor even sad. The readers are taught to accept death with detachment, rather than grieve it.
Questions About Mortality
- How do you feel after reading Teddy's [likely] death at the end of the story?
- Does Teddy successfully convince Nicholson that death is no big deal? How do you think Nicholson feels upon hearing that scream at the end of the story?
- Teddy writes in his journal that "it," presumably his death, will happen either on the current day or when he is sixteen. Why doesn't he know for sure? What does this tell us about fate and free will in Teddy's religious philosophy?
- Teddy explains to Nicholson that he didn't tell the professors in Boston when they were going to die because they didn't really want to know. Does it seem likely that Teddy is correct, given how vehemently the professors were asking him?
- What might be the problem with knowing when you're going to die?
Chew on This
Despite Teddy's insistence that emotions are useless and death is nothing, Salinger intends his readers to feel sad at the end of "Teddy."
The ending of "Teddy" is anything but tragic; Teddy himself has taught the reader that death is not anything to lament.