Study Guide

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

By J.D. Salinger


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.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. How does Buddy feel about Seymour's suicide? Is he still angry or bitter? Sad? Confused?
  2. Where are Eastern philosophies explicitly discussed in these two stories? Where is it implicitly discussed, or hinted at? How does Salinger use these different techniques to imbue a Western story with Eastern concepts?
  3. Re-read Buddy's discussion of sickness as related to artistry and spirituality. He cites examples like van Gogh and Kafka – and of course his brother – as men who were tortured precisely because of their artistic brilliance. According to Buddy, must a man necessarily be unhappy to be an artist?
  4. Based on the two poems, which Buddy revealed in detail, are Seymour's poems fundamentally Western or Eastern?

Chew on This

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."