"Teddy" explores different ideas in Eastern religious philosophy, focusing on reincarnation, Zen kōans (a.k.a. philosophical riddles), transcendence, detachment, and enlightenment. The story makes the point that living a spiritual life is very difficult in America, and shows some stereotypical American resistance to Eastern ideas. Main character Teddy maintains that it is the soul, not the body, which matters; therefore, physical pleasures and any sort of materialism are to be avoided.
Questions About Spirituality
- How does Salinger blend ideas from different religions to construct Teddy's own religious philosophy? What does this say about religion and spirituality?
- What is the distinction between Eastern and Western thought as portrayed in "Teddy"?
- Check out Salinger's description of Teddy's clothes, body, and facial features. How does Teddy's physicality compare to his mental and spiritual status? What do you make of this juxtaposition?
- Early in the text, Teddy claims that he was close to enlightenment in his previous life – not so close that he could have died and stayed with God, but pretty close. What are we meant to think of Teddy's post-mortem fate this time around? Has he achieved enlightenment, and will he be reincarnated yet again? (This question assumes you agree with the popular theory that Teddy is dead at the end of the story. You don't have to, of course.)
Chew on This
A reader need not have any background in Eastern religions nor even grasp the nuances of Teddy's philosophical argument to understand "Teddy."
To understand "Teddy," a reader needs to be well versed in the religious philosophy Teddy discusses.