Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction: J.D. Salinger

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction J.D. Salinger Book
by J.D. Salinger

Book Comments & Discussion

Nensi
Seymour: an Introduction

"Seymour: an Introduction" is quite a different story from "Roof Beam." The narrator is once again Buddy Glass, but here he is 40 and writing from his isolated home in the woods. This is not as much a short story, he explains, as it is his attempt at describing Seymour to us. The piece is an amalgamation of narrative commentary, digressions, and anecdotes from Buddy and Seymour's childhood. It is not only about Seymour, but about the writing process as well. In particular, "Seymour" is about the difficulty of writing anything final about a person who, in Buddy's words, is too large to fit on paper.

In any case this short story is fragmented, non-linear, and not something we can re-tell for you in a paragraph or two. We can tell you that the piece explores Seymour's own writing – it turns out that he was a prolific poet in his last few years. It also explores his spirituality (Buddy describes him as a "God-knower"), which is actually very much related to his poetry (Seymour wrote a sort of specialized haiku). We hear about the enormous influence Seymour had on Buddy when they were growing up together, especially in the realm of Buddy's own writing. (Seymour was always the first to read and respond to Buddy's work.)

Buddy ends up discussing – somewhat subtly – several of Salinger's other works, which he claims to have written himself ("A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "Teddy" are discussed. It's possible that Buddy also alludes to The Catcher in the Rye). Buddy admits that he can't help but write about Seymour, even when a story is supposed to be about something else. He references Seymour's suicide without discussing it in detail; he won't be ready for that for another few years, he says.

Though Buddy is primarily talking about Seymour, we learn a lot about Buddy from listening to him narrate. He currently teaches English at a women's college, writes professionally, and lives like a hermit in his little house in the woods. Buddy appears largely cynical throughout the course of the narrative with regard to readers, English students, publishers, critics, and his own teaching. He concludes at the end of "Seymour," however, that the most important thing he does is go into work every day and teach his class of students. It's clear that his optimistic conclusions are the result of Seymour's influence on his character and personal philosophy.
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The author writes: The two long pieces in this book originally came out in The New Yorker ? RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTERS in 1955, SEYMOUR ? An Introduction in 1959. Whatever their differences in mood or effect, they are both very much concerned with Seymour Glass, who is the main character in my still-uncompleted series about the Glass family. It struck me that they had better be collected together, if not deliberately paired off, in something of a hurry, if I mean them to avoid unduly or undesirably close contact with new material in the series. There is only my word for it, granted, but I have several new Glass stories coming along ? waxing, dilating ? each in its own way, but I suspect the less said about them, in mixed company, the better. Oddly, the joys and satisfactions of working on the Glass family peculiarly increase and deepen for me with the years. I can't say why, though. Not, at least, outside the casino proper of my fiction.
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Jan 2013
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