Salinger’s characters, genius, and madness from “Nine Stories”

Since its publication over fifty years ago, J.D Salinger’s Nine Stories has gained significant attention from the public receiving positive criticism from the literary experts around the globe. Nine Stories is regarded as the bestselling collection of stories character by the introduction and murder of Seymour, a brooding character associated with giving rise to the Glass family and the Glass dynasty. Salinger’s publications show a nice intersection of various life aspects intertwining the art of life and its characteristics at its best. In this way, Salinger gave life to the American short story development and focus. Nine Stories covered multiple themes espousing the entire social contexts of the American society while at the same time attempting to promote sanity and uprightness among the members of the society in general. In this consideration, we can argue that Salinger’s Nine Stories has embraced an ambivalent milieu of dimensions.

The main themes in the stories included genius, corruption of morality, madness, spirituality, and spiritual integrity and occasional abilities of the innocent people trying to transform the lives of the society into better citizens. Seven of the nine stories in the anthology highlights about children of high moral standing compared to their parents, a fact which Salinger brings out to contrast the aspect of morality across generations. Salinger’s revolving themes can be seen displayed ostensibly in his characters and thematic scenarios which give more insights into the aspects and factors considered outstanding in his society. Salinger molds characters which reflect the exact situations in which he wishes to describe, and this seems to work out for him quite successfully. The revolving themes are evident in the Nine Stories and ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Although each of the stories seems to focus on a completely different aspect of the society, the themes depicted in them keeps repeating themselves all through, a feature that develops a storyline for the entire book and works of creation. In this research, I analyze the character traits: genius and madness as depicted in Salinger’s ‘Nine Stories’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’

The majority of the stories in Salinger’s Nine Stories and The Catcher in the Rye’ revolve around the description of the relationships which exists between children and adults in the American society. The descriptions adopted by the author concerning such relationships gives an overarching concern about the manners in which the society makes the transition from a state of innocent view to the state of experience characterized by geniuses and creativity. According to Salinger, the perception that adults attempt to pass moral knowledge to the children is a routine obligation for every society and adults. However, a controversy exists in Salinger’s characters in which the society in which the characters hail seems to contrast the expectations for growth and development of the children as it interferes with the normalcy of life and expectations. In this way, therefore, the society interferes with the ability of the characters to communicate their opinions and minds meaningfully to other members of the society. This aspect has been associated with Salinger’s consideration of absolute madness in his characters.

A lot can be understood from the perspective of the social realms in which Salinger develops his characters, including the complex relationships which exist between various members of the society. For instance, it is evident that a lot of Salinger’s writings and depiction of the urban, suburban and the exurban environments circumscribing his view of the different lifestyles which exists in his American society. Out of these differences, Salinger creates a sad decay of genuineness, sensibleness and simply the representation of truth in the society and his characters. In this way, Salinger is not just interested in a specific milieu of factors of concern, but rather on a complex build of factors prevailing in the emergent capitalists’ society eminent in the patriarchal western societies. A closer analysis of Salinger’s consideration of madness can be viewed from the perspective of the change in American 20th-century society. Although Salinger accepts that Change is inevitable, the manner in which the society embraces change and acts amidst the change is what concerns Salinger most. According to Salinger, the rate at which changes occur in the 20th century American society and the depiction of these changes inflicts a certain degree of madness which he deems inappropriate and undeserving

Moreover, madness can be viewed from the perspective of the perceptions that people have about it rather than the mental condition. The rush of change and the absolute desire to embrace modernity as expressed in Salinger’s younger characters is what he equates to madness. Salinger creates two directly contrasted perceptions of the American society by creating two distinct sets characters comprised of the young children on the one hand and adults on the other hand. Although the description of children form the large part of Salinger’s writings, it is important to describe these characters alongside the adults to understand the aspects of madness and genius as depicted in Salinger’s characters. One of Salinger’s children characters who has displayed as a genius character in the Nine Stories is Seymour. Seymour is one of the children in the story A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ whose characters depiction informs the entire storyline. Seymour is a member of the Glass family which has also appeared and reappeared in the Nine Stories. Seymour is depicted as a very gifted child, a deep thinker and a critical person whose actions and conducts are performed out of a well-thought and planned lifestyle. His utterly inquisitive mindset sets Seymour high in the ranks of Salinger’s characters in ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish.’

Seymour’s intelligence us proved right from the beginning of the story with the Psychiatrist at hotel telling Muriel about him and his outstanding knowledge and understanding. Notably, Seymour’s intelligence is witnessed in his actions and circumstances under which he performs his activities. At Seymour’s age, he is capable of playing organized piano, and the psychiatrist can construct rhythm melody from the beats he plays. These actions, in comparison to his age at the time, tickled the psychiatrist’s attention to question his source of intelligence and inner abilities. A lot of issues surrounding the characters and, behavior characteristics displayed by Seymour depicts his inner understanding regarding the nature of the world and the society in general. He is very creative, constructive and a deep thinker capable of innovating outstanding facts out of the simple scenario.

Salinger depicts Seymour in all his appearances as a very wise young boy. His wisdom surpasses his age and is often ahead of time concerning his knowledge and actions compared to his age. Seymour’s story of the banana fish provides an in-depth understanding of his outstanding knowledge about the natural world even with just a little learning. Although Seymour’s narration of the bananafish is used primarily to depict the modern society (the 20th century America) characterized by people who continually consume resources, growth fat and attract diseases, this analogy is also a depiction of Seymour’s inner ability to understand the natural world. It is amazing that at his age, Seymour knows much concerning the bananafish and can relay this information to the child, Sybil, in an understandable manner. He can put himself in the shoes of Sybil and fit her age while telling the story so that Sybil can understand his position and the nature of the bananafish. It is based on these facts that analysts such as Chazelle and Chainani, have argued that Salinger aimed to depict Seymour, a child, to be cleverer than his fellow adults, displaying his capability to converse effectively with a child more than an adult could. The ability to fit into the psychology of the child and knowing exactly what to tell the child is considered an inner knowledge which is associated with Seymour’s genius character.

Concerning these aspects, Rousseau, Wordsworth and Miller’s psychological analyses and great philosophical thinking sees the plight of humanity as depicted by Salinger in Seymour’s character. For instance, Rousseau and Wordsworth’s philosophical understandings delineate that there exists a very thin line between madness and genius. For instance, through Seymour’s ‘madness’ amidst ‘genius’ conditions, he can escape the hole unharmed. The fine, thin line differentiating a madman and a genius man is explored extensively in Salinger’s writings. Such circumstances are also utilized in the case of Teddy, the last story in Salinger’s Nine Stories. To highlight this perspective, analysts such as Fassano (149) have looked at the characters of Seymour in two perspectives. On one end his exceptionality, as a major character in the Nine Stories, in connection to the society in which he lives. Still, on the other hand, Seymour’s characters are analyzed from the perspective of his committing suicide. It is surprising that a genius person would be unable to solve his problems and commit suicide.

It is surprising that Seymour, a genius character would be unable to develop suitable and outstanding solutions for his problems and commit suicide. This surprising inability to develop self-made solutions for self-made problems for intelligent characters such as Seymour is what Rousseau, Wordsworth, and Miller refer to as a thin, fine line between a madman and a genius man. Referring to the psychological state of the minds between the mad people and the genius people, the two have inner instincts that are capable of warning them effectively concerning the looming dangers. The inability to connect relate the intelligent world with the genius capabilities presents and inner madness which are often depicted in Seymour’s life.

Similar scenarios are seen in Salinger’s Teddy in which he creates genius characters amidst lunatic experiences.


Works Cited

Chazelle, Damien, and Chainani, Soman ed. “Nine Stories “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”           Summary and Analysis.” GradeSaver, 30 October 2008 Web. 11 December 2016.

Fassano, Anthony. “Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” Explicator 66.3 (2008): 149 50.    Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.