Study Guide

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction Quotes

By J.D. Salinger

  • Admiration

    But at twenty-three I was the sort of young man who responds to all public injury of his person, short of a fractured skull, by giving out a hollow, subnormal-sounding laugh. ("Roof Beam" 2.15)

    You get the sense reading Salinger that he has a gift for observing people. This might be just the way a 23-year-old man would react to public injury.

    To get back to the plot, I remember that while all three - the Matron of Honor, her husband, and Mrs. Silsburn - were conjunctively staring at me and watching me cough, I glanced over at the tiny elderly man in the back. He was still staring fixedly straight ahead of him. I noticed, almost with gratitude, that his feet didn't quite touch the floor. They looked like old and valued friends of mine. ("Roof Beam" 2.47)

    Buddy takes comfort in the bride's father's uncle. At first, he is the only guest in the car who seems to have no interest in attacking Buddy for being Seymour's brother. The uncle's importance will grow as the story continues, though, so keep an eye out.

    For an instant, in fact, as I looked at her, I had a very uncomfortable notion that she might even know that I was Seymour's brother. It wasn't a thought to dwell on. Instead, I looked her unsquarely in the eye and said, "He was a chiropodist." ("Roof Beam" 2.51)

    In a way, Buddy is defending his brother by lying to the Matron of Honor. By protecting information about Seymour, he shields his brother from her scrutiny.

    Mrs. Silsburn said nothing, and I didn't look at her to sec just how seriously she'd been affronted by the Matron of Honor's remark. I remember, though, that I was impressed, in a peculiar sense, with the Matron of Honor's tone of apology for her little slip about 'crazy aunts and uncles'. It had been a genuine apology, but not an embarrassed and, still better, not an obsequious one, and for a moment I had a feeling that, for all her stagy indignation and showy grit, there was something bayonetlike about her, something not altogether unadmirable. […] The point is, however, that right then, for the first time, a small wave of prejudice against the missing groom passed over me, a just perceptible little whitecap of censure for his unexplained absenteeism. ("Roof Beam" 2.61)

    This is an interesting passage, because it complicates several elements of the story: our understanding of the Matron of Honor's character, our understanding of Buddy, the social tensions in the car, and our classification of characters are either likeable (namely Buddy) or antagonistic (pretty much everybody else).

    She gets a vast satisfaction out of telling her friends that she's engaged to the Billy Black who was on "It's a Wise Child" for years. ("Roof Beam" 4.7)

    This should make us worry about Muriel's motivations for marrying Seymour, as well as the basis of her love for him. Buddy earlier worried that people misunderstood Seymour, largely on account of his childhood fame. Perhaps Muriel, like Mrs. Fedder and the Matron of Honor, misunderstand Seymour's real nature.

    "She's an irritating, opinionated woman, a type Buddy can't stand. I don't think he could see her for what she is. A person deprived, for life, of any understanding or taste for the main current of poetry that flows through things, all things. She might as well be dead, and yet she goes on living, stopping off at delicatessens, seeing her analyst, consuming a novel every night, putting on her girdle, plotting for Muriel's health and prosperity. I love her. I find her unimaginably brave." ("Roof Beam" 4.8)

    Again, look at the way Salinger complicates his characters and doesn't allow us to classify them as likeable or antagonistic. Just as Buddy had a moment of admiration for the Matron of Honor in the guest car, so Seymour experiences the same thing for Mrs. Fedder.

    (Surely the one and only great poet the psychoanalysts have had was Freud himself; he had a little car trouble of his own, no doubt, but who in his right mind could deny that an epic poet was at work?) ("Seymour" 1.2)

    Salinger generally appears to be anti-Freud – he mocks psychoanalysis several times in this and other stories, and even suggests that it may be at the root of some of Seymour's problems. For Buddy to express such admiration here is unexpected, as is the way he pays homage – after all, the title of "poet" seems to be the highest honor in Buddy's eyes.

    At any rate, his character lends itself to no legitimate sort of narrative compactness that I know of, and I can't conceive of anyone, least of all myself, trying to write him off in one shot or in one fairly simple series of sittings, whether arranged by the month or the year. ("Seymour" 1.4)

    We quickly see that "Seymour: an Introduction" isn't just about the story of Seymour. It's also about the process of writing and, in particular, of the Herculean task (to borrow a phrase from Salinger) of capturing the essence of so large a person in between two bookends. Buddy's feelings of admiration render this attempt essentially futile.

    I intend very soon now - it's just a matter of days or weeks, I tell myself - to stand aside from about a hundred and fifty of the poems and let the first willing publisher who owns a pressed morning suit and a fairly clean pair of gray gloves bear them away, right off to his shady presses, where they'll very likely be constrained in a two-tone dust jacket. ("Seymour" 1.9)

    Although he is explicitly talking about Seymour's book of poems, "constrained" is a powerful verb here that gets at the heart of narrator Buddy's own writing difficulties – constraining his brother in a relatively short amount of space. The tirade that follows – against editors, readers, but most vehemently against critics – may also have much to do with Buddy's reluctance to properly document his brother in a series of published works. How can he defend his brother (as presented in his writing) against the critics who will read Buddy's own work?

    But from watching the guests for some three hours, from grinning at them, from, I think, loving them, Seymour - without asking any questions first - brought very nearly all the guests, one or two at a time, and without any mistakes, their own true coats, and all the men involved their hats. ("Seymour" 1.10)

    Notice the word that Buddy uses to describe Seymour's relationship these people: love. Despite their insularity and detachment, the Glass family ultimately loves all of humanity. This has a lot to do with the ending of "Seymour" (and of Franny and Zooey, for that matter), so stay tuned.

  • Language and Communication

    To get back to the plot, I remember that while all three - the Matron of Honor, her husband, and Mrs. Silsburn - were conjunctively staring at me and watching me cough, I glanced over at the tiny elderly man in the back. ("Roof Beam" 2.47)

    This is an example of the meta-fictional style of both of "Room Beam" and "Seymour" – both the fictional author (Buddy) and the elements of the narrative are explicitly discussed as such.

    "Yes, but I solemnly promised her. The apartment's gonna be loaded with all kinds of crazy aunts and uncles and absolute strangers, and I told her I'd stand guard with about ten bayonets and see that she got a little privacy and –" She broke off. "Oh, God. This is awful."

    Mrs. Silsburn gave a small, stilted laugh. "I'm afraid I'm one of the crazy aunts," she said. Clearly, she was affronted. ("Roof Beam" 2.58-9)

    Notice how one thing after another raises the level of tension and discomfort for the guest in the car – social tensions, Buddy's coughing, the heat, the parade, etc. The stability of the scene is increasingly disturbed as the story continues.

    He walked slowly and very independently, not to say insolently, the few steps over to the intersection, where the ranking policeman was directing things. The two then stood talking to each other for an endless amount of time. (I heard the Matron of Honor give a groan, behind me.) Then, suddenly, the two men broke into uproarious laughter - as though they hadn't really been conversing at all but had been exchanging very short dirty jokes. Then our driver, still laughing uninfectiously, waved a fraternal hand at the cop and walked - slowly - back to the car. He got in, slammed his door shut, extracted a cigarette from a package on the ledge over the dashboard, tucked the cigarette behind his car, and then, and then only, turned around to make his report to us. ("Roof Beam" 2.67)

    This passage is a great example of Salinger's prowess when it comes to physical description. We can so clearly see that the driver resents his guests and is reveling in the small bit of power he momentarily has over them. And yet Salinger hasn't told us any of this – we get it all through physical details. Keep an eye out for more non-verbal communication, even from the author to the reader, throughout the course of these two short stories.

    (It isn't easy, to this day, to account for the Matron of Honor's having included me in her invitation to quit the ship. It may simply have been inspired by a born leader's natural sense of orderliness. She may have had some sort of remote but compulsive urge to make her landing party complete.... My singularly immediate acceptance of the invitation strikes me as much more easily explainable. I prefer to think it was a basically religious impulse. In certain Zen monasteries, it's a cardinal rule, if not the only serious enforced discipline, that when one monk calls out "Hi!" to another monk, the latter must call back 'Hi!' without thinking.) ("Roof Beam" 2.131)

    We can start to understand why Buddy doesn't explicitly answer the question of why he stays with this group of wedding guests. We see that his understanding of the matter isn't exactly clear. That is, he explains the situation as he understands it – in veiled terms and abstruse comparisons.

    It was a day, God knows, not only of rampant signs and symbols but of wildly extensive communication via the written word. If you jumped into crowded cars, Fate took circuitous pains, before you did any jumping, that you had a pad and pencil with you, just in case one of your fellow-passengers was a deaf-mute. If you slipped into bathrooms, you did well to look up to see if there were any little messages, faintly apocalyptical or otherwise, posted high over the washbowl. ("Roof Beam" 3.26)

    Such written communication is not only a motif in the story, but a major thematic element as well. The complications of communication are introduced in "Roof Beam" but explored more explicitly in "Seymour," where Buddy discusses the difficulty of expressing emotion through writing.

    I read and reread the quotation, and then I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and opened Seymour's diary. ("Roof Beam" 3.28)

    Salinger brilliantly gives Seymour a place in this narrative despite the fact that his character is entirely absent. We hear his voice, we learn about his psychology, and we get a sense of his motivations through this diary.

    The Lieutenant rang the elevator bell, and the three stood leadenly watching the indicator dial. No one seemed to have any further use for speech. I stood inn the doorway of the apartment, a few feet away, dimly looking on. ("Roof Beam" 4.66)

    Come to think of it, has speech really done anything for this group all day? They've been talking back and forth, but have they really been communicating?

    What happened was, she sat down in the middle of our driveway one morning to pet Boo Boo's cat, and Seymour threw a stone at her. He was twelve. That's all there was to it. He threw it at her because she looked so beautiful sitting there in the middle of the driveway with Boo Boo's cat. ("Roof Beam" 5.2)

    One interpretation is that this is just another way of communicating for Seymour – much the same way that Charlotte used to stomp on his foot during broadcasts when she really liked anything he was saying.

    I feel I have a knowledge, a kind of editorial insight gained from all my failures over the past eleven years to describe him on paper, and this knowledge tells me he cannot be got at with understatement. The contrary, in fact. I've written and histrionically burned at least a dozen stories or sketches about him since 1948 - some of them, and I says it what shouldn't, pretty snappy and readable. But they were not Seymour. Construct an understatement for Seymour and it turns, it matures, into a lie. An artistic lie, maybe, and sometimes, even, a delicious lie, but a lie. ("Seymour" 6.2)

    This passage sends us right back to the epigraphs, and particularly to Kierkegaard's discussion of an error as an integral part of the work.

  • Family

    Then, suddenly, it struck me - and it was sheerly intuitive - that she might well be in secret possession of a motley number of biographical facts about Seymour; that is, the low, regrettably dramatic, and (in my opinion) basically misleading facts about him. That he'd been Billy Black, a national radio 'celebrity', for some six years of his boyhood. Or that, for another example, he'd been a freshman at Columbia when he'd just turned fifteen. ("Roof Beam" 2.49)

    We find out later why these facts about Seymour are misleading. Buddy's tirade in his apartment reveals that Seymour in no way reveled in these abilities. Similarly, we find out in "Seymour: an Introduction" that Seymour didn't even like being the Glass family "champion talker."

    The Matron of Honor seemed to reflect for a moment. "Well, nothing very much, really," she said. "I mean nothing small or really derogatory or anything like that. All she said, really, was that this Seymour, in her opinion, was a latent homosexual and that he was basically afraid of marriage. I mean she didn't say it nasty or anything. She just said it - you know - intelligently. I mean she was psychoanalyzed herself for years and years." ("Roof Beam" 2.87)

    Psychoanalysis is discussed – mocked, in fact – in many of the other Glass family stories. Buddy makes it clear that Seymour was psychologically poked, prodded, and probed to no end as a child. Buddy perhaps even suggests that it is partly responsible for Seymour's problems as an adult.

    "Do you know who I think you arc? I think you're this Seymour's brother." [The Matron of Honor] waited, very briefly, and, when I didn't say anything: "You look like him, from his crazy picture, and I happen to know that he was supposed to come to the wedding. His sister or somebody told Muriel." Her look was fixed unwaveringly on my face. "Are you?" she asked bluntly.

    My voice must have sounded a trifle rented when I answered. "Yes," I said. My face was burning. In a way, though, I felt an infinitely less furry sense of self-identification than I had since I'd got off the train earlier in the afternoon. ("Roof Beam" 2.110-1)

    Much of Buddy's identity in this story is wrapped up in his relationship to Seymour. Of course, all he is to the guests in the car is Seymour's brother. He seems to be entirely defined in terms of his relation to Seymour, both in "Roof Beam" and in "Seymour."

    [The Matron of Honor]: "I'd die, in fact, before I'd let an child of mine turn themselves into a little exhibitionist before the public. It warps their whole entire lives. The publicity and all, if nothing else – ask any psychiatrist. I mean, how can you have any kind of normal childhood or anything?" ("Roof Beam" 3.14)

    This is one of the issues raised in Salinger's Franny and Zooey, two stories about the youngest Glass family children. Zooey feels as though he's been deprived of a shot at a normal life – but interestingly, it has more to do with his over-education (at Seymour and Buddy's hands) than with his time on the radio. He does make the point, however, that he never really "got off the air," so to speak.

    I read and reread the quotation, and then I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and opened Seymour's diary. ("Roof Beam" 3.28)

    It's also fitting that Seymour communicates only through the written word – his diary in "Roof Beam" and his poetry in "Seymour."

    I am a liar, of course. Charlotte never did understand why Seymour threw that stone at her. ("Roof Beam" 5.2)

    We are led to believe that the Glass family all understood why Seymour threw the stone, yet Charlotte never did. The idea that the Glass family is too insular to be understood by an outsider is an issue raised in the other Glass family novel, Franny and Zooey.

    On the other hand, in the earlier, much shorter story I did, back in the late forties, lie not only appeared in the flesh but walked, talked, went for a dip in the ocean, and fired a bullet through his brain in the last paragraph. However, several members of my immediate, if somewhat far-flung, family, who regularly pick over my published prose for small technical errors, have gently pointed out to me (much too damned gently, since they usually cone down on me like grammarians) that the young man, the "Seymour," who did the walking and talking in that early story, not to mention the shooting, was not Seymour at all but, oddly, someone with a striking resemblance to - alley oop, I'm afraid - myself. Which is true, I think, or true enough to make inc feel a craftsman's ping of reproof. And while there's no good excuse for that kind of faux pas, I can't forbear to mention that that particular story was written just a couple of months after Seymour's death, and not too very long after I myself, like both the "Seymour" in the story and the Seymour in Real Life, had returned from the European Theater of Operations. I was using a very poorly rehabilitated, not to say unbalanced, German typewriter at the tine. ("Seymour" 1.7)

    This complicates our understanding both of Seymour and of Buddy. To know that Buddy wrote "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (the story referred to in this passage) is complicated in itself. But now we have to wonder how much of anything Buddy says about Seymour is misdirected self-reflection.

    Used with moderation, a first-class verse is an excellent and usually fast-working form of heat therapy. Once, in the Army, when I had what might be termed ambulatory pleurisy for something over three months, my first real relief carne only when I had placed a perfectly innocent-looking Blake lyric in my shirt pocket and worn it like a poultice for a day or so. Extremes, though, arc always risky and ordinarily downright baneful, and the dangers of prolonged contact with any poetry that seems to exceed what we most familiarly know of the first-class are formidable. In any case, I'd be relieved to see my brother's poems moved out of this general small area, at least for a while. I feel mildly but extensively burned. ("Seymour" 1.10)

    This connects Seymour and Buddy in two ways. First, it sends us back to the opening of "Roof Beam" when Buddy recalls Seymour using prose as a pacifier for Franny. Second, it reminds us of what Seymour had to say about getting scars on his hands from touching certain people. As Seymour will later say, the line between the two of them is blurry indeed.

    It should have been a religious story, but it's puritanical. I feel your censure on all his Goddamns. That seems off to me. What is it but a low form of prayer when he or Les or anybody else God-damns everything? ("Seymour" 1.27)

    Zooey Glass expresses very similar sentiments in the short story "Zooey" (also narrated by Buddy Glass, by the way). We can really see Seymour's influence on all of his younger siblings.

    Seymour is my Davega bicycle. I've been waiting most of my life for even the faintest inclination, let alone the follow-through required, to give away a Davega bicycle. ("Seymour" 8.1)

    How is Seymour Buddy's Davega bicycle, and how does he "give him away"?

  • Spirituality

    I'd been interested in the fact that my brother had asked his fiancée to meet him in a hotel lobby, rather than at his empty, available apartment. The morality of the invitation was by no means out of character, but it interested me, mildly, nonetheless. ("Roof Beam" 2.35)

    This is a subtle point, but one that the author goes out of his way to make sure we notice. (He will later reiterate that Seymour has not seduced Muriel.) Seymour has kept his relationship chaste, and this speaks a great deal to his character and his relationship with Muriel.

    For the first time in several minutes, I glanced around at tile tiny elderly man with the unlighted cigar. The delay didn't seem to affect him. His standard of comportment for sitting in the rear scat of cars - cars in motion, cars stationary, and even, one couldn't help imagining, cars that were driven off bridges into rivers - seemed to be fixed. It was wonderfully simple. You just sat very erect, maintaining a clearance of four or five inches between your top hat and the roof, and you stared ferociously ahead at the windshield. If Death - who was out there all the time, possibly sitting on the hood - if Death stepped miraculously through the glass and came in after you, in all probability you just got up and went along with him, ferociously but quietly. Chances were, you could take your cigar with you, if it was a clear Havana. ("Roof Beam" 2.68)

    This is where we first get a sense of the spiritual significance of this character. His is a sort of Zen-like serenity, one that is not disturbed by any outside influences. We can start to see why Buddy is so drawn to him, particularly in the stifling, uncomfortable setting.

    [The Matron of Honor]: "I don't know how much you know about people. But what man in his right mind, the night before he's supposed to get married, keeps his fiancée up all night blabbing to her all about how he's too nappy to get married and that she'll have to post pone the wedding till he feels steadier or he won't be able to come to it? Then, when his fiancée explains to him like a child that everything's been arranged and planned out for months, […] then, after she explains all that, he says to her he's terribly sorry but he can't get married till he feels less happy or some crazy thing!" ("Roof Beam" 2.99)

    We can associate Seymour's need to be "steadier" with the sort of Zen-like calm embodied by the bride's father's uncle. Seymour feels that something as intense as marriage can't be approached with any attitude other than steady, spiritual calm.

    I glanced past and behind her, furtively, at the fifth passenger - the tiny elderly man - to see if his insularity was still intact. It was. No one's indifference has ever been such a comfort to me. ("Roof Beam" 2.114)

    This is an important line; here our earlier suspicions as to the bride's father's uncle are confirmed. We wonder, though, how much of the "comfort" is just in Buddy's head. That is, does he simply convince himself that the elderly man is a sort of ally or is he actually one?

    (It isn't easy, to this day, to account for the Matron of Honor's having included me in her invitation to quit the ship. It may simply have been inspired by a born leader's natural sense of orderliness. She may have had some sort of remote but compulsive urge to make her landing party complete.... My singularly immediate acceptance of the invitation strikes me as much more easily explainable. I prefer to think it was a basically religious impulse. In certain Zen monasteries, it's a cardinal rule, if not the only serious enforced discipline, that when one monk calls out 'Hi!' to another monk, the latter must call back 'Hi!' without thinking.) ("Roof Beam" 2.131)

    Here Salinger explicitly draws our attention to the spiritual undercurrent running through this story. This is our hint to keep looking for other connections to aspects of Zen in the story.

    It was a grin that was no less resplendent for the fact that it made no sense whatever. Nor for the fact that his teeth were obviously, beautifully, transcendently false. ("Roof Beam" 2.133)

    What odd adjectives to describe false teeth. What is Buddy getting at here?

    "It's closed for alterations," [the Matron of Honor] stated coldly, looking at me. Unofficially bat unmistakably, she was appointing me odd-man-out again, and at that moment, for no reason worth going into, I felt a sense of isolation and loneliness more overwhelming than I'd felt all day. Somewhat simultaneously, it's worth noting, my cough reactivated itself. I pulled my handkerchief out of my hip pocket. ("Roof Beam" 2.143)

    Look at the connection between the physical and the emotional here. Now we can start thinking about Buddy's cough in a more symbolic way.

    I think one most recurrently hears about the curiously-productive-though-ailing poet or painter is that he is invariably a kind of […]Sick Man who […] gives out terrible cries of pain, as if he would wholeheartedly let go both his art and his soul to experience what passes in other people for wellness, and yet (the rumor continues) when […] someone who actually loves him […] passionately asks him where the pain is, he either declines or seems unable to discuss it at any constructive clinical length, and […] he looks more perversely determined than ever to see his sickness run its course, as though […] he had remembered that all men […] eventually die, […] but that he […] is at least being done in by the most stimulating companion […] he has ever known. ("Seymour" 1.2)

    This is an interesting concept –the connection between brilliant artistry and painful sickness – and it's a real favorite of Salinger's over the course of many of his works. An illustrative line on this matter comes from another of Salinger's stories, "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period": "The worst thing that being an artist could do to you would be that it would make you slightly unhappy constantly. This is not a tragic situation, in my opinion." This possibly has a lot to do with the discussions of happiness both in "Roof Beam" and in "Seymour."

    And I'm reminded, too, that once, when we were boys, Seymour waked me from a sound sleep, much excited, yellow pajamas flashing in the dark. He had what my brother Walt used to call his Eureka Look, and lie wanted to tell the that he thought he finally knew why Christ said to call no man Fool. ("Seymour" 1.15)

    This is interesting – the color yellow is important in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the story of Seymour's suicide, as possible representing innocence and purity. Buddy may be cross-referencing his other works yet again.

  • Love

    She told me she just wishes Seymour would relate to more people. In the same breath, said she just loves him, though, etc., etc., and that she used to listen to him religiously all the years lie was on the air. ("Roof Beam" 2.5)

    This makes us wonder how much of Muriel's love for Seymour is based on the image she has of him as a radio star. Keep an eye out for more hints like this one as the story progresses.

    The Matron of Honor stared at me, openly, for a moment - and not rally rudely, for a change, unless children's stares are rude. ("Roof Beam" 2.152)

    This is the third time in two short pages that Buddy has described the other guests as children. Why does he use this kind of language?

    "Bring anything," the eternal spokeswoman interrupted from the couch. "Just make it wet. And cold." The heels of her shoes were resting on the sleeve of my sister's jacket. Her hands were folded across her chest. A pillow was bunched up under her head. "Put ice in it, if you have any," she said, and closed her eyes. I looked down at her for a brief but murderous instant, then bent over and, as tactfully as possible, eased Boo Boo's jacket out from under her feet." ("Roof Beam" 3.7)

    The Matron of Honor has become increasingly dislikable as the story has continued. Compare the disdain in this passage to the relative acceptance – bordering on admiration – that Buddy felt for her back in the car at one moment.

    "Your brother's never learned to relate to anybody. All he can do, apparently, is go around giving people a bunch of stitches in their faces. He's absolutely unfit for marriage or anything halfway normal, for goodness' sake." ("Roof Beam" 3.14)

    After you get a chance to read some of Seymour's diary entries, does Mrs. Fedder's assessment seem reasonable, or off base?

    The contract writer quoted in the text, I might mention, has always been a great favorite - at appropriately staggered time intervals - with all the children in our family, largely through the immeasurable impact of Seymour's taste in poetry on all of us. ("Roof Beam" 3.28)

    The impact that both Seymour and Buddy had on their younger siblings when it comes to education of every kind (spiritual, literary, philosophical, religious, etc.) is explored further in Franny and Zooey.

    I met Muriel at the Biltmore at seven. Two drinks, two drugstore tuna-fish sandwiches, then a movie she wanted to see, something with Greer Garson in it. I looked at her several times in the dark when Greer Garson's son's plane was missing in action. Her mouth was open. Absorbed, worried. The identification with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer tragedy complete. I felt awe and happiness. How I love and need her undiscriminating heart. ("Roof Beam" 4.3)

    Seymour views Muriel with such detachment that we have to wonder what kind of feelings he has for her.

    I think she feels a mixed maternal and sexual drive in lily general direction. ("Roof Beam" 4.7)

    Seymour does seem to have a solid understanding of his relationship with Muriel. Similarly, he also understands why her mother has concerns about him. Yet, for all his understanding, he seems paralyzed when it comes to making things better between Muriel and himself.

    Her marital goals are so absurd and touching. She wants to get a very dark sun tan and go up to the desk clerk in some very posh hotel and ask if her Husband has picked up the mail yet. She wants to shop for curtains. She wants to shop for maternity clothes. She wants to get out of her mother's house, whether she knows it or not, and despite her attachment to her. She wants children - good-looking children, with her features, not mine. I have a feeling, too, that she wants her own Christmas tree ornaments to unbox annually, not her mother's. ("Roof Beam" 4.7)

    Muriel is more interested in the institution of marriage than she is in marrying Seymour in particular. We have to wonder how she and Seymour, so radically different, ever ended up together. Fortunately, Salinger will explain in a bit…

    "How I worship her simplicity, her terrible honesty. How I rely on it." ("Roof Beam" 4.9)

    Look at the verbs Seymour uses to describe his feelings for Muriel. These are words of dependence. What does it tell us about his relationship?

    [Mrs. Silsburn]: "This child could double for Muriel at that age. But to a T."

    The whisky was steadily edging up on me, and I couldn't quite take in this information whole, let alone consider its many possible ramifications. ("Roof Beam" 4.40)

    Salinger is careful to emphasize this point about Charlotte and Muriel – so we know it's important. Now we suspect that Seymour's love for Muriel is really subconsciously driven by his childhood love for Charlotte.

  • Writing and Literature

    I've reproduced the tale here not just because I invariably go out of my way to recommend a good prose pacifier to parents or older brothers often-month-old babies but for quite another reason. ("Roof Beam" 2.1)

    Buddy's opening anecdote sets the stage for a novel that addresses the capabilities and effects of the written word. We also start thinking about different types of communication, especially when we view this opening as a bookend with the closing line about the cigar and black piece of paper.

    I should, no doubt, break in here to describe my general reaction to the main import of what the Matron of Honor was saying. I'd just as soon let it go, though, for the moment, if the reader will bear with me. ("Roof Beam" 2.90)

    Buddy makes his stories not just about his subject matter, but also about the art of story-telling, and the craft of writing as well.

    The Matron of Honor sat forward suddenly, alertly, exhaling smoke through her nostrils. "All right, never mind that, drop f that for a minute - I don't need that,' she said. She was addressing Mrs. Silsburn, but in actuality she was addressing me through Mrs. Silsburn's face, so to speak. 'Did you ever see —— —— in the movies?" she demanded.

    The name she mentioned was the professional name of a then fairly well-known-and now, in 1955, a quite famous - actress singer. ("Roof Beam" 2.103-104)

    Why does Buddy choose to omit Charlotte's name here, especially if he's going to reveal it later in the story?

    Then the pencil began, very unsteadily, to move. An 'I' was dotted. And then both pad and pencil were returned personally to me, with a marvelously cordial extra added wag of the head. He had written, in letters that had not quite jelled yet, the single word 'Delighted'. The Matron of Honor, reading over my shoulder, gave a sound faintly like a snort, but I quickly looked over at the great writer and tried to show by my expression that all of us in the car knew a poem when we saw one, and were grateful. ("Roof Beam" 2.139)

    This is a great precursor to the discussion of poetry in "Seymour: an Introduction." Think about this "poem" in the context of Buddy's exposition on the topic of that second story.

    He didn't even talk to you, for God's sake, the whole way down on the bus or subway. I said that not one God-damn person, of all the patronizing, fourth-rate critics and column writers, had ever seen him for what he really was. A poet, for God's sake. And I mean a poet. If he never wrote a line of poetry, lie could still flash what lie had at you with the back of his ear if he wanted to. ("Roof Beam" 3.15)

    This connects Seymour to the uncle, whom Buddy has already described as a poet. He seems to be getting at some element of spirituality when he uses the term; he's not just talking about literary prowess here.

    With or without soap, her handwriting was always almost indecipherably Minute, and she had easily managed to post the following message up on the mirror: 'Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man. Love, Irving Sappho, formerly under contract to Elysium Studios Ltd. Please be happy happy happy with your beautiful Muriel. This is an order. I outrank everybody on this block.' The contract writer quoted in the text, I might mention, has always been a great favorite - at appropriately staggered time intervals - with all the children in our family, largely through the immeasurable impact of Seymour's taste in poetry on all of us. ("Roof Beam" 3.28)

    It's fitting that Boo Boo quotes from a famous poet in order to wish Seymour – the resident family poet, it later turns out – a happy wedding.

    I read and reread the quotation, and then I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and opened Seymour's diary. ("Roof Beam" 3.28)

    It's almost as though the quotation written by Boo Boo functions as an epigraph for Buddy's reading of the diary.

    My original plans for this general space were to write a short story about Seymour and to call it 'SEYMOUR ONE', with the big 'ONE' serving as a built-in convenience to me, Buddy Glass, even more than to the reader - a helpful, flashy reminder that other stories (a Seymour Two, Three, and possibly Four) would logically have to follow. Those plans no longer exist. ("Seymour" 1.4)

    This reveals the way Salinger has been writing about Seymour – not in an organized or linear fashion (though this may have been the original plan), but instead in fragmented and complementary pieces.

    I'm anything but a short-story writer where my brother is concerned. What I am, I think, is a thesaurus of undetached prefatory remarks about him. I believe I essentially remain what I've almost always been - a narrator, but one with extremely pressing personal needs. I want to introduce, I want to describe, I want to distribute mementos, amulets, I want to break out my wallet and pass around snapshots, I want to follow my nose. In this mood, I don't dare go anywhere near the short-story form it eats up fat little undetached writers like me whole. ("Seymour" 1.4)

    This sums up "Seymour: an Introduction" in a very Salinger-esque nutshell. This is the form that the narrative takes. Is there, perhaps, the very rigid bones of a narrative structure lurking underneath this façade of spontaneity?

    I've written about my brother before. For that matter, with a little good-humored cajoling I might conceivably admit that there's seldom been a time when I haven't written about him, and if, presumably at gunpoint, I had to sit down tomorrow and write a story about a dinosaur, I don't doubt that I'd inadvertently give the big chap one or two small mannerisms reminiscent of Seymour […]. Some people - not close friends - have asked me whether a lot of Seymour didn't go into the young leading character of the one novel I've published. Actually, most of these people haven't asked me; they've told me. To protest this at all, I've found, makes me break out iii hives, but I will say that no one who knew my brother has asked me or told me anything of the kind - for which I'm grateful, and, in a way, more than a bit impressed, since a good marry of my main characters speak Manhattanese fluently and idiomatically, have a rather common flair for rushing in where most damned fools fear to tread, and are, by and large, pursued by an Entity that I'd much prefer to identify, very roughly, as the Old Man of the Mountain. ("Seymour" 1.7)

    Many people think that this "novel" Buddy refers to is actually Catcher in the Rye. Do you see any similarities between Seymour and the protagonist of Catcher, Holden Caulfield? Or is Buddy right to imply that there is no relationship between them?

  • Isolation

    I might add, not quite parenthetically, that he was by far the least prolific letter writer in the family. I don't think I've had five letters from him in my life. ("Seymour" 1.3)

    It's interesting that Seymour's self-isolation manifests itself this way – as someone who, in a family is writers, is surprisingly silent. This is fitting in a story that deals with written communication.

    To make things still more provocative, as I was wandering around in the garment district trying to find an empty cab, a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps, whom I'd apparently overlooked saluting, crossing Seventh Avenue, suddenly took out a fountain pen and wrote down my name, serial number, and address while a number of civilians looked interestedly on. ("Roof Beam" 2.7)

    This sets us up for the later tension between Buddy and the Matron of Honor's husband, who, as a lieutenant, outranks him. Part of the intense discomfort of the backseat setting lies in this tension.

    In automatic deference to his rank, I very nearly chuckled right along with him - a short, inane, stranger's and draftee's chuckle that would clearly signify that I was with him and everyone else in the car, against no one. ("Roof Beam" 2.26)

    Buddy's isolation is made painfully evident by he lengths to which he goes to placate the others – even those (like the Matron of Honor) who are stuck in the car with him.

    And, still more salient, why had I jumped into the car in the first place? . . . There seem to me at least a dozen answers to these questions, and all of them, however dimly, valid enough. I think, though, that I can dispense with them, and just reiterate that the year was 1942, that I was twenty-three, newly drafted, newly advised in the efficacy of keeping close to the herd - and, above all, I felt lonely. One simply jumped into loaded cars, as I see it, and stayed seated in them. ("Roof Beam" 2.46)

    Salinger doesn't let us forget the setting of his stories, and the importance of the times on the various characters. Based on the story of Seymour's suicide, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," some critics believe that Seymour suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We can't forget that Buddy is also enrolled in the army, and we have to take this into account when thinking about his character.

    I had a sudden, violent impulse to jump out of the car and break into a sprint, in any direction at all. As I remember, though, I was still in my jump seat when the Matron of Honor addressed me again. ("Roof Beam" 2.99)

    What's keeping Buddy in the car at this point?

    "It's closed for alterations," [the Matron of Honor] stated coldly, looking at me. Unofficially bat unmistakably, she was appointing me odd-man-out again, and at that moment, for no reason worth going into, I felt a sense of isolation and loneliness more overwhelming than I'd felt all day. Somewhat simultaneously, it's worth noting, my cough reactivated itself. I pulled my handkerchief out of my hip pocket. ("Roof Beam" 2.143)

    Why is Buddy so dependent on these people – people that he doesn't even like – for acceptance?

    I intend very soon now - it's just a matter of days or weeks, I tell myself - to stand aside from about a hundred and fifty of the poems and let the first willing publisher who owns a pressed morning suit and a fairly clean pair of gray gloves bear them away, right off to his shady presses, where they'll very likely be constrained in a two-tone dust jacket, complete with a back flap featuring a few curiously damning remarks of endorsement, as solicited and acquired from those 'name' poets and writers who have no compunction about commenting in public on their fellow-artists' works (customarily reserving their more deeply quarter-hearted commendations for their friends, suspected inferiors, foreigners, fly-by-night oddities, and toilers in another field), then on to the Sunday literary sections, where, if there's room, if the critique of the big, new, definitive biography of Grover Cleveland doesn't run too long, they'll be tersely introduced to the poetry-loving public by one of the little band of regulars, moderate-salaried pedants, and income-supplementers who can be trusted to review new books of poetry not necessarily either wisely or passionately but tersely. ("Seymour" 1.9)

    It's a fairly well known bit of gossip that Salinger is a famous recluse who hasn't published anything since "Hapworth, 16, 1924" in 1965. Maybe here we have a glimpse into his reasoning? Just how much of Salinger's own self went into the character of Buddy is a lively and fascinating debate.

    For the terrible and undiscountable fact has just reached me, between paragraphs, that I yearn to talk, to be queried, to be interrogated, about this particular dead man. It's just got through to me, that apart from my many other - and, I hope to God, less ignoble - motives, I'm stuck with the usual survivor's conceit that he's the only soul alive who knew the deceased intimately. 0 let them come - the callow and the enthusiastic, the academic, the curious, the long and the short and the all-knowing! Let them arrive in busloads, let them parachute in, wearing Leicas. The mind swarms with gracious welcoming speeches. One hand already reaches for the box of detergent and the other for the dirty tea service. The bloodshot eye practices clearing. The old red carpet is out. ("Seymour" 1.18)

    This passage leads us to believe that Buddy doesn't actually want to live in isolation. It's possible that his writing so extensively about Seymour is really just his way of communicating with the world, yet at the same time keeping himself somewhat protected and detached from it.

    (O happy hepatitis! I've never known sickness - or sorrow, or disaster, for that matter - not to unfold, eventually, like a flower or a good memo. We're required only to keep looking. Seymour once said, on the air, when he was eleven, that the thing he loved best in the Bible was the word WATCH!) ("Seymour" 1.23)

    This brings us back to Buddy's earlier discussion of eyes, as well as his claim that the true artist is a seer and dies from the things he has seen.

    One of the few things left in the world, aside from the world itself, that sadden me every day is an awareness that you get upset if Boo Boo or Walt tells you you're saying something that sounds like me. You sort of take it as an accusation of piracy, a little slam at your individuality. Is it so bad that we sometimes sound like each other? The membrane is so thin between us. Is it so important for us to keep in mind which is worse? That time, two summers ago when I was out so long, I was able to trace that you and Z. and I have been brothers for no fewer than four incarnations, maybe more. Is there no beauty in that? For us, doesn't each of our individualities begin right at the point where we own up to our extremely close connections and accept the inevitability of borrowing one another's jokes, talents, idiocies? ("Seymour" 1.35)

    It really seems that the only break from isolation for either Buddy or Seymour was in each other. Now that Seymour is dead, Buddy still seeks him out (through all this writing) as a companion.

  • Happiness

    [The Matron of Honor]: "I don't know how much you know about people. But what man in his right mind, the night before he's supposed to get married, keeps his fiancée up all night blabbing to her all about how he's too nappy to get married and that she'll have to post pone the wedding till he feels steadier or he won't be able to come to it? Then, when his fiancée explains to him like a child that everything's been arranged and planned out for months, […] then, after she explains all that, he says to her he's terribly sorry but he can't get married till he feels less happy or some crazy thing!" ("Roof Beam" 2.99)

    Seymour does seem to be bothered by an excess of emotion. Later, when we are allowed to see some of the entries in his diary, it becomes clear that most of his social interactions are characterized by his typical detachment.

    (It isn't easy, to this day, to account for the Matron of Honor's having included me in her invitation to quit the ship. It may simply have been inspired by a born leader's natural sense of orderliness. She may have had some sort of remote but compulsive urge to make her landing party complete.... My singularly immediate acceptance of the invitation strikes me as much more easily explainable. I prefer to think it was a basically religious impulse. In certain Zen monasteries, it's a cardinal rule, if not the only serious enforced discipline, that when one monk calls out 'Hi!' to another monk, the latter must call back 'Hi!' without thinking.) ("Roof Beam" 2.131)

    It looks like Buddy isn't making decisions with the sort of logic we're accustomed to. He doesn't address the question of whether he actually wants to stay with the wedding guests for the afternoon; he's not thinking at all about what he wants to do. He seems driven – at least this comparison would suggest – by a cryptic sense of duty.

    I said that from the time Seymour was ten years old, every summa-cum-laude Thinker and intellectual men's room attendant in the country had been having a go at him. I said it might be different if Seymour had just been some nasty little high-I.Q. showoff. I said he hadn't ever been an exhibitionist. He went down to the broadcast every Wednesday night as though he were going to his own funeral. He didn't even talk to you, for God's sake, the whole way down on the bus or subway. I said that not one God-damn person, of all the patronizing, fourth-rate critics and column writers, had ever seen him for what he really was. ("Roof Beam" 3.15)

    Seymour was never happy with his own intelligence or skills or advancements. We learn through these stories that it's much harder for him to be happy than it may be for someone like Muriel or the other members of her family.

    "I felt unbearably happy all evening. The familiarity between Muriel and her mother struck line as being so beautiful when we were all sitting in the living room." ("Roof Beam" 4.6)

    Again we see that Seymour can't deal with being happy – he is incapable of functioning within a normal range of human emotion.

    "Oh, God, if I'm anything by a clinical name, I'm a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy." ("Roof Beam" 4.13)

    Remember that happiness is Seymour's primary reason for calling off the wedding. He seems to resent the sort of normal, happy life that Muriel so desires in married life.

    Professionally speaking, I repeat I'm all ecstatically happy man. I've never been before. ("Seymour" 1.1)

    Buddy will reiterate this point several times throughout the course of "Seymour." It is a particularly interesting claim in the context of Seymour's apparently paralyzing happiness in "Roof Beam." Seymour thought that happiness was a problem. Here, too, happiness would seem to stand in Buddy's way when it comes to writing this introduction.

    I intend very soon now - it's just a matter of days or weeks, I tell myself - to stand aside from about a hundred and fifty of the poems and let the first willing publisher who owns a pressed morning suit and a fairly clean pair of gray gloves bear them away, right off to his shady presses, where they'll very likely be constrained in a two-tone dust jacket, complete with a back flap featuring a few curiously damning remarks of endorsement, as solicited and acquired from those 'name' poets and writers who have no compunction about commenting in public on their fellow-artists' works (customarily reserving their more deeply quarter-hearted commendations for their friends, suspected inferiors, foreigners, fly-by-night oddities, and toilers in another field), then on to the Sunday literary sections, where, if there's room, if the critique of the big, new, definitive biography of Grover Cleveland doesn't run too long, they'll be tersely introduced to the poetry-loving public by one of the little band of regulars, moderate-salaried pedants, and income-supplementers who can be trusted to review new books of poetry not necessarily either wisely or passionately but tersely. (I don't think I'll strike quite this sour note again. But if I do, I'll try to be equally transparent about it.) ("Seymour" 1.9)

    Buddy does indeed strike several sour notes in the course of these two stories. It's hard to believe he really is as happy as he claims when he's harboring all this anger. On the other hand, his ending might redeem him.

    My inner, incessant elation, which I think I've rightly, if repeatedly, called happiness, is threatening, I'm aware, to turn this whole composition into a fool's soliloquy. ("Seymour" 1.10)

    How does Buddy's happiness effect his narration?

    Furthermore, though I am, as I've already conspicuously posted, a happy writer, I'll take my oath I'm not now and never have been a merry one; I've mercifully been allowed the usual professional quota of unmerry thoughts. ("Seymour" 1.15)

    What is Buddy getting at here? What is the difference between being a happy writer and a merry one?

    Just this one other thing. What is it I want (italics all mine) from a physical description of him? More, what do I want it to do? I want it to get to the magazine, yes; I want to publish it. But that isn't it - I always want to publish. It has more to do with the way I want to submit it to the magazine. In fact, it has everything to do with that. I think I know. I know very well I know. I want it to get down there without my using either stamps or a Manila envelope. if it's a true description, I should be able to just give it train fare, and maybe pack a sandwich for it and a little something hot in a thermos, and that's all. The other passengers in the car must move slightly away from it, as though it were a trifle high. ("Seymour" 1.3)

    Does anyone else get the impression that what's really making Buddy happy is all this writing? He obviously takes real pleasure in toying with words and crafting this description of Seymour.

    A place has been prepared for each of us in his own mind. Until a minute ago, I'd seen mine four times during my life. This is the fifth time. I'm going to stretch out on the floor for a half hour or so. I beg you to excuse me. ("Seymour" 8.10)

    What triggered this epiphany on Buddy's part? How would you characterize his emotion here?