Like many of Salinger's Glass family stories, both "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: an Introduction" are filled with intense admiration. We have admiration on the part of the author for his fictional characters, and also on the part of the fictional narrator/writer (Buddy) both for his own story telling and his subject matter (his brother Seymour, in this case). "Seymour" deals most explicitly with the artistic consequences of such intense admiration and emotion. Buddy finds that he cannot write with accuracy about a man he holds in such high esteem.
Buddy is blinded by his own closeness to and admiration for Seymour; we can't expect a realistic depiction of Seymour through Buddy's eyes, and yet we are limited in our conception of Seymour to Buddy's recollections, opinions, and musings.
Because we get to read Seymour's own words (through his diary and notes) and hear about his own writing (through Buddy's summary of his poetry), we are able to get at the true nature of his character, despite our narrator's bias.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction is about the inherent difficulty of expressing truth in plain language. Confusion and miscommunication dominate "Roof Beam," and the frustration of communicating through written work is at the heart of "Seymour." Arguably, the only effective communication in the first half of the book is non-verbal. As evidenced by the Zen koan, certain truths can only be understood emotionally or spiritually, not in a way that could be expressed verbally. On top of it all, the alienating force of the peculiar Glass family language acts as an additional barrier for narrator Buddy Glass in communicating to other characters and to the reader.
Words are not an effective means of communication in "Raise High the Room Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: an Introduction."
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction argues that communication must take place on a spiritual level.
Like the many of Salinger's famous short stories, both "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: an Introduction" are about the fictional Glass family, a set of seven intelligent, highly-educated, and spiritual siblings. In these stories, the insular and alienating nature of the Glass family surfaces yet again (having been discussed first in the short stories "Franny" and "Zooey"). Narrator Buddy Glass struggles with the difficulty of communicating to the reader (a clear outsider) the inner workings of the rather unique inner workings of the Glass family.
The Glass family characters alienate the reader.
The characters in the Glass family are endearing and likable to the reader.
Like many of Salinger's short stories, both "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter" and "Seymour: an Introduction" reflect the author's interest in Eastern philosophies. Though koans, or Zen riddles, are not explicitly discussed in either story, we can see the influence of this way of thinking throughout the book. In other words, understanding truth is emphasized as a spiritual or emotional process, rather than a cerebral or intellectual one. The difficulty of attempting to live an Eastern life in a Western world is also part of the subtext, and particularly relevant to the character of Seymour Glass. In Salinger's writing, Eastern and Western religions are perfectly compatible as discussion moves freely from Christ to the Buddha and back again.
Eastern philosophy is at the heart of both "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: an Introduction."
Eastern philosophy is peripheral, and not central, to both "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: an Introduction."
For a word that gets so little explicit attention, love dominates the thematic undercurrent of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction. Narrator Buddy Glass is motivated to tell both stories by his love and admiration for his brother, Seymour. At the same time, love is one of the reasons he can never accurately portray Seymour on the written page. "Seymour" deals explicitly with the consequences of such love for the artist at work. The book also deals with the ability of the detached, spiritual man (Seymour, the god-knower, as Buddy puts it) to love others. In "Roof Beam," Seymour's love for his fiancée is examined. In "Seymour," the idea of religious love – Christ's love for every human being – rises to the forefront.
Muriel and Seymour's love for each other is based on mutual self-delusion.
Muriel and Seymour's love for each other is genuine.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction is narrated by the fictional Buddy Glass, an English professor and professional writer. "Seymour" in particular is about the writing process, and specifically the difficulty of writing about a subject one loves and admires as dearly as Buddy does his brother Seymour. In its discussion of communication in general the book suggests that languages obscures truth, and that communication is necessarily flawed.
Salinger defines poetry differently in "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" than he does in "Seymour: an Introduction."
We can only fully understand Salinger's definition of poetry by reading these two short stories together. The ideas, which are introduced in "Room Beam," are completed in "Seymour."
Isolation is both literal and metaphorical in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction. Narrator Buddy Glass is a member of the insular, peculiar, and alienating Glass family – a fact that predisposes him to isolation from the rest of the world. The difficulty of communication heightens this sense of isolation. How can Buddy connect to another individual, or even to the reader, when he can't communicate effectively? In "Roof Beam," Buddy suffers from isolation and loneliness even while surrounded by people. In "Seymour," he has progressed to physical isolation, writing from a lonely cabin in the woods.
Buddy's character is more isolated in "Seymour: an Introduction" than in "Roof Beam."
Buddy's character is more isolated in "Roof Beam" than he is as a narrator in "Seymour: an Introduction."
Happiness is explicitly discussed both in "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and in "Seymour: an Introduction." In the first story, Seymour Glass fails to show up at his wedding and claims that he is "too happy" to get married. Here, happiness is contrasted with Zen-like calm and acceptance. To live a truly spiritual life, Seymour believes he needs to maintain a degree of detachment – something that, it seems, his marriage would disrupt. (This idea of detachment is further explored in Salinger's short story " Teddy," if you're interested.) In "Seymour," narrator Buddy Glass claims to be an ecstatically happy writer, a fact that further complicates his attempt to accurately and completely portray his brother Seymour via the written word.
Buddy is lying when he claims to be happy in "Seymour: an Introduction."
Buddy is genuinely, as he claims, ecstatically happy as he narrates "Seymour: an Introduction."