Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction Writing and Literature
By J.D. Salinger
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?