Study Guide

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

By J.D. Salinger


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.