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Nine Stories

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Happiness is a solid, and joy a liquid

Nine Stories

                                                          

             

Nine Stories

 


Salinger vacillated for years between his desire to first publish a novel and his editor's urging that he first publish a collection of short stories. In April, 1953 the book Nine Stories was published. This is a list of those stories, with information on their individual original publications as well as a short summary of each:

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

The New Yorker, January 31, 1948, pages 21-25.
This is easily the most famous of Salinger's short stories. Bananafish is a dark and an intricate introspection whose dramatic climax serves as a catapult rather than an ending. Taking place at a beach resort, it details the last day in the life of Seymour Glass, on holiday with his superficial wife Muriel. While on the beach, the disturbed Seymour meets Sybil, a young, innocent girl who becomes playfully enamored of him. While swimming, Seymour tells Sybil the symbolic tale of the Bananafish, a story which has become famous in its own right. An aching soul, Seymour's final act is one of sacrifice rather than selfishness.
Reprinted in: Simon and Schuster, 55 Short Stories from the New Yorker, 1949. Collected in Nine Stories, 1953.

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut

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The New Yorker, March 20, 1948, pages 30-36.
A portrait of unfulfilled lives, this is a story of two women who get drunk one suburban afternoon. Disillusioned by life's imperfection, they have learned little from its lessons. Instead, they descend into alienation and self-indulgence. This story was made into a movie in 1950 much to Salinger's horror. It contains an important reminiscence of Walt Glass, explaining his death.

Just Before the War with the Eskimos

The New Yorker, June 5, 1948, pages 37-40, 42, 44, 46.
This is possibly the tightest of the Nine Stories. We are first introduced to the cynically selfish Ginnie Mannox and her uptown tennis partner, Selena Graff. The bulk of this story centers around the meeting of Ginnie and Selena's brother, Franklin. Franklin, an unassuming and maladjusted hero, is reminiscent of both Holden Caulfield and Seymour Glass. When Selena meets him, Franklin has cut his finger and offers Ginnie half of his chicken sandwich. He also offers Ginnie the awareness of her own separation and drift toward alienation. Although this story contains four speaking characters, no more than two are active at any given time. Rich in metaphor, this piece is as much allegory as short-story. With significance instilled in every word, and symbolism stacked upon symbolism, it demands a slow and careful read.

The Laughing Man

The New Yorker, March 19, 1949, pages 27-32.
A story reminiscent of Fitzgerald characters, "The Laughing Man" employs the frequent Salinger mechanism of encapsulating a story within a story. The narrator remembers how, at nine, he and his fellow "Comanches" would be picked up each afternoon by the Chief -a Staten Island law student paid to keep them busy. At the end of each day, the Chief regales them with the ongoing saga of a grotesquely deformed, hero -criminal. Enraptured by this story, the children are thrown to the mercy of it's teller- the Chief -who fashions it to the whims of his doomed relationship with his vibrant summer-girlfriend. "The Laughing Man" is often regarded as the finest of the nine stories.

Down at the Dinghy

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Harpers CXCVIII, April, 1949, pages 87-91.
This is a remarkable short story packing a large punch. It is a glimpse into the life of Boo Boo Tannenbaum (nee Glass) whose son, Lionel has retreated to hiding in the hold of his father's boat. The interaction between mother and son as Boo Boo coaxes Lionel from the dinghy is deep and symbolic, causing this story to shine. While being a forerunner of the Glass sagas, it shares its message with the Caulfield stories.

For Esmé - with Love and Squalor

The New Yorker, April 8, 1950, pages 28-36.
Among the most popular of Salinger's short stories, "For Esmé-with Love and Squalor" is also one of the most autobiographical. The story's author, Sergeant X, meets the young Esmé and her little brother while stationed in Britain during WWII. Lonely and apprehensive for the future, he promises to correspond with the young girl and write a story in her honor. Active service on the continent results in the author becoming mentally unhinged and forsaking his promise. When he stumbles upon an old unopened letter from Esmé, it contrasts his now-altered perception of life while offering a measure of hope. Along with the letter, Esmé has enclosed the gift of a wristwatch which becomes symbolic of Sergeant X himself. While noticing "its crystal had been broken in transit" and wondering if "the watch was otherwise undamaged", the watch spontaneously springs to life. The final words of this story represent the rhythm of the watch and Sergeant X's recovery.

Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes

The New Yorker, July 14, 1951, pages 20-24.
This is the story of a mid-night phone conversation between two friends and lawyers. The first lawyer has been diverted from a tryst by the second lawyer's phone call. His wayward wife has failed to return home from a party. Seemingly using his friend as a sounding board, the second lawyer despairs at length as to the state of his marriage, a union which is drained of poetry. He also scathingly critiques his wife, whom is painted in the most unflattering of terms. This is a smart and clever little story with a satisfying ending.

De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period

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World Review XXXIX, May, 1952, pages 33-48.
A tale told in the most humorous of styles, "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" is the story of a talented, yet pretentious young man who moves to Montreal to become an instructor for a correspondence "art academy". To do so, he feels compelled to embellish his credentials with extravagant accomplishments and an overly-chummy relationship with Picasso. While sneering at the childish attempts of his talentless mail-order "pupils", he falls in love with the artistic beauty of a religious painting submitted to him by his sole pupil of promise: an ageless, faceless nun. De Daumier-Smith has an epiphany which reveals the mystically inherent nature of beauty and value, allowing him to reinvent himself and transforming his life. Along with "Just before the War with the Eskimos", this story is a short reflection of "Franny and Zooey".

Teddy

The New Yorker, January 31, 1953, pages 26-34, 36, 38, 40-41, 44-45.
"Teddy" is the logical final installment of the Nine Stories. Along with Bananafish, it binds together this collection as perfectly as a set of bookends. "Teddy" is a culmination of themes of not only the Nine Stories, but all of Salinger's previous work. In this story we meet ten-year-old Theodore Mc Ardle, his parents and sister. They are on board an ocean-liner enroute home from a European trip. In Teddy Mc Ardle, we meet the enlightened yet estranged genius-child that will consume much of Salinger's later writings. The bulk of this story's dialogue is a conversation that Teddy has with a young man on the ship. A discussion of eastern religion and philosophy, it demonstrates a maturing of Salinger's spiritual exploration. The ending of this story has been criticized by critics for its punch. But thoughtful readers will realize that this story is only a dream. This is essentially a Glass story and should be included in that category.


Short Story Memories

When I started out to be a professional writer, it was possible to hit a home run...When a Salinger story came out - "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" or "Franny" and "Zooey" - everybody would be talking about it.

Kurt Vonnegut

 


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