Title Zen Buddhism in selected works of J.D. Salinger Author(s) Chung, Kwok-wai, Michael.; 鍾國偉. Citation Issue Date 2005 URL http://hdl.handle.net/10722/40169 Rights The author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights) and the right to use in future works.

Zen and Salinger

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  • Title Zen Buddhism in selected works of J.D. Salinger

    Author(s) Chung, Kwok-wai, Michael.; .


    Issue Date 2005

    URL http://hdl.handle.net/10722/40169

    Rights The author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patentrights) and the right to use in future works.






    Chung Kwok-wai Michael

    Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for

    M.A. in English Studies 2005

    Supervisor Dr. Otto Heim

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    I hereby declare that this dissertation represents my own work undertaken

    as a candidate for the M.A. degree in English Studies and that it has not

    been previously submitted to this University or any other institutions for

    admission or publication purpose.

    Chung Kwok-wai Michael

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    1. Introduction (P.4 - P.7) 2. The Catcher in the Rye (P.7 - P.16) 3. Nine Stories (P.16 - P.41) 4. Conclusion (P.41 - P.42)

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    1. Introduction

    The Catcher in the Rye, written by Jerome David Salinger, American writer born

    in 1919, has won critical acclaim and many devoted admirers, especially among the

    Post World War Two generation of university students. Frederick L. Gwynn and

    Joseph L. Blotner in The Fiction of J.D. Salinger describe The Catcher in the Rye as

    the only Post-War fiction unanimously approved by contemporary literate American

    youth(56). It is true to say that The Catcher in the Rye is the most representative of

    all the works of J.D. Salinger even though it may not be the best. Critics of J.D.

    Salinger have largely focused on his only novel The Catcher in the Rye. Warren

    French in J.D. Salinger also points out the strong desire of many of his contemporary

    critics to find out what in the novel actually appeals to the people of the time.

    Very few critics are interested in dealing in detail with the general features of

    Salingers works. It is largely due to Salingers limited production. J.D. Salinger is

    indeed in no way a prolific writer. His entire repertoire consists of 1 novel and 21

    uncollected short stories altogether. Many critics are more interested in analyzing in

    detail each single text of Salinger rather than giving a comprehensive analysis of

    some common features of his works.

    One common feature in Salingers works that critics have brought up is the idea

    of innocence as represented in children. Critics, however, seldom compare in detail

    the representation of children in different works of J.D. Salinger in order to give a

    detailed discussion of this remarkably common feature in J.D. Salingers works.

    This also applies to another major feature of J.D. Salingers works - the

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    presentation of the ideas of Zen Buddhism. As Bernice and Sanford Goldstein

    mention in their study of the close relationship between J.D. Salingers works and

    Oriental thought, Salingers use of Zen and related Eastern experiencecannot be

    dismissed as pedantic and obtrusive, but emerges we believe as a driving force behind

    much of his writing Salingers Zen is not that of a faddist or a dilettante(70). Many

    critics, like Bernice and Sanford Goldstein, have pointed out the close relationship

    between Oriental thoughts/Zen Buddhism and Salingers works. Very few of them,

    however, really go into detail to talk about how each piece of Salingers work is

    related to Zen Buddhism or Oriental thoughts. One exception is James Lundquist who

    committed one whole chapter, Zen Art and Nine Stories, in his work J.D. Salinger

    to give a detailed analysis of how the ideas of Zen Buddhism are embedded and

    presented in some of J.D. Salingers works. According to James Lundquist, Zen

    attitudes toward art and human experience are consciously being used by Salinger in

    dealing with and expressing such major themes as the survival of the despairing

    individual in a mass society, the redeeming possibilities in a lonely benevolent,

    intuitive kind of love, and the necessity of overcoming the pervasive obscenity of life

    by passing through the boundaries of personality to enlightenment, liberation, or


    My research here is to look in detail at how the ideas of Zen Buddhism are

    presented in The Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories, as observed by different critics

    at different levels and from different perspectives The purpose of my research is not to

    prove or to argue that there is a close relationship between the ideas of Zen Buddhism

    and Salingers works. The main purpose of my research is to find out how the critics

    think that Salingers works are related to Zen Buddhism. It is noteworthy that none of

    the critics covered in my research denied the relationship between Zen Buddhism and

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    Salingers works. They, however, all suggest the connection between Zen Buddhism

    and Salingers works at different levels and from different perspectives. The major

    reason that the above two texts are chosen is that they are the most representative

    among all the works of J.D. Salinger.

    The Catcher in the Rye is of course the most representative with its popularity

    among young American college students. It has in fact later become a must-read book

    for every American in junior high school. It is interesting that a book which almost

    every American must have read or at least know about in the materialistic and

    capitalist society embraces many important and remarkable ideas of the Zen art in the

    east. The strong wish to break away from materialism (a major theme in Zen) has in

    fact been a strong force in the field of American literature with earlier examples

    dating back to some Transcendentalist writers like Henry David Thoreau (Walden),

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Scarlet Letter). It is also

    noteworthy that a novel which was regarded as obscene and vulgar (the use of foul

    language and the issue of sex) has at the same time embodied many of the Zen

    concepts which stress peace and serenity. The story of Holden Caulfield, often

    compared with Mark Twains The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James Joyces

    Ulysses, is in fact in many ways similar to the Journey of the Buddha, as James

    Lundquist suggests in J.D. Salinger. This argument is further explored by Bernice and

    Sanford Goldstein who look in detail at the implications of the people and things

    Holden comes upon in the story and those that feature in Buddhas journey before he

    comes to the moment of satori under the Bo-tree.

    As for Nine Stories, its famous epigraph is a Zen Koan. It is noteworthy that the

    ideas of Zen Buddhism are prevalent throughout the nine short stories. The reason that

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    Nine Stories is chosen is because the collection, according to some critics, embraces

    the best works of J.D.Salinger. As James Lundquist says, Salinger is undoubtedly a

    better short story writer than he is a novelist. Lundquist even pinpoints that Nine

    Stories is in fact a collection of his finest work and a startling blend of West and East

    in its aesthetic assumptions(69). Each of the nine stories is able to differentiate itself

    from another independently and at the same time link up with one another in the

    colors of Zen Buddhism.

    The ideas and concepts of Zen Buddhism will be based on the works by the late

    Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Professor of Buddhist Philosophy at the Otani University,

    Kyoto. He was acclaimed to be the greatest authority on Zen Buddhism. He has

    published numerous works both in English and Japanese on the subject of Buddhism.

    Many of Salingers critics, including John Wenke, Warren Franch and James

    Lundquist, cite D. T. Suzukis works in illustrating the ideas of Zen Buddhism while

    examining the relationship between Zen Buddhism and Salingers works.

    2. The Catcher in the Rye

    The most significant representation of the ideas of Zen Buddhism in The Catcher

    in the Rye is undoubtedly Holden Caulfields journey throughout the story. According

    to James Lundquist, Holden Caulfields long digression is a pilgrimage to find

    meaning, one he has doubtless encouraged others to follow on the path back to a

    revitalized sense of inner direction.(67) Here Holdens wanderings through the

    course of his story is compared to the journey of Gautama, the Buddha. Suggesting

    that both share similar backgrounds, James Lundqusit pinpoints three major

    similarities between the journey of Holden and that of Gautama. Firstly, Gautama is

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    married to a beautiful and devoted princess named Yasodhara. Lundquist suggests that

    Holden also initiates into adulthood with the same element. Holden, according to

    Lundquist, has a sexual jealousy(67) over Jane. He says that such sexual jealousy is

    so possessive as to make marriage almost a necessary institution. Secondly, both

    Gautama and Holden come from pretty well-off family. Gautama lives in the palace

    while Holdens parents are fairly wealthy. Holden is therefore able to go to an

    expensive school and owns expensive luggage. In search of an answer to human

    suffering, both Gautama and Holden break away from their wealthy privileged

    background to set on their journeys.

    Thirdly, both Gautama and Holden encounter some form of human suffering for

    which they decide to find a solution and which they seek to overcome. Gautama

    spends many years wandering up and down the valley of Ganges trying to find the

    truth of life. He, however, concentrated on seeking the truths, finds himself even more

    confused. When Gautama finally comes to the Bo-tree, he suddenly experiences a

    perfect state of clarity and understanding. He feels liberated from the everlasting

    round of birth and death. Holden also experiences a similar form of enlightenment or

    epiphany in the final scene where he and Phoebe are together in the zoo. Holden feels

    so damn happy(211) all of a sudden when he sees Phoebe kept going round and

    round(211). Holden says he didnt care(212), just as Gautama liberating himself

    through letting go of his life and the surroundings and thereby brings self-frustration

    to an end. All these three parallels show to us the similarity between the journey of the

    Buddha and that of Holden Caulfield.

    Gerald Rosen also compares the journey of Siddhartha Gautama and that of

    Holden Caulfield in his critical essay A Retrospective Look at The Catcher in the

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    Rye. He believes that their journeys are similar in that they are both confronted with

    old age, sickness and death in the course of the journey. The Buddha chooses to leave

    his family and wander in the world in order to search a guide which would lead him to

    come to terms with old age, sickness and death. I would suggest that, in rough line,

    and without the Buddhas final conscious mature understanding, this is the form of the

    story of Holden Caulfield(95), Gerald Rosen says, just as in the story of the

    Buddha, it is sickness, old age, and death, which we the readers, along with Holden,

    encounter when we begin our journey through the pages of The Catcher in the

    Rye(95). Rosen suggests that Holden meets sickness and old age in the form of Mr.

    Spencer, Holdens teacher. He describes in detail the appearance of Old Spencer as a

    sick old man: pills and medicine all over the place, the smell of Vicks Nose Drops,

    old guys in their pajamas and bathrobes, bumpy old chests, white and unhairy

    legs of an old guy(7). Holden is also, like the young Buddha who contemplates life

    and death, obsessed with the idea of death. For example, he talks about how the

    Egyptians wrapped up dead people when answering an examination question which

    has nothing to do with mummies. Holden is also troubled by the death of his brother

    Allie. The idea of death is everywhere in Holdens life. For example, while watching

    the game between Saxon Hall and Pencey, he comments, It was the last game of the

    year and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didnt win

    (2). All these parallels again serve to tell the close relationship between the story of

    the Buddha and the story of Holden Caulfield.

    According to D.T. Suzuki in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Zen is decidedly

    not a system founded upon logic and analysis(33). Zen Buddhism puts special

    emphasis on seeking enlightenment through introspection and intuition. James

    Lundquist suggests that the Catcher in the Rye also embodies this key feature of Zen

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    Buddhism. In J.D. Salinger, Lunquist points out that Holdens own story is not

    unified and simplified; it is in itself an extended digression leading in fits and starts

    toward a moment of illumination/disillusion that is not the result of logical, ordered

    thought(48). Apart from the story structure, Lundquist also mentions the

    conversations between Holden and his teacher Mr. Vinson. Holden admits that he

    cannot unify(68) and simplify(68) all the time as Mr. Vinson always asks him to

    do. Holden even maintains that he likes a speech better when someone digresses.

    According to Ihab Hassan, a critic who has conducted comprehensive studies on the

    Catcher in the Rye and other works by Salinger, Salinger constantly attempts to

    reach out from his isolation and disrupts our habits of gray acquiescence and

    revives our faith in the willingness of the human spirit(123). In line with the

    Buddhist rejection of logic and reason, Salinger portrays Holden as a spontaneous

    person who always follows his own will.

    James Lundquist also brings up another major feature in Zen Buddhism when he

    talks about how Holden goes through his journey and comes to the moment of

    enlightenment. Lundquist reminds us that Buddha nature is within oneself and is

    not to be sought outside. This is supported by the authoritative Zen master D.T.

    Suzuki, who stresses that Zen most strongly and persistently insists on an inner

    spiritual experience(34). Suzuki further explains that Zen is possessed by everybody

    and one should look into ones own being and seek it not through others. So how is

    this idea presented in the Catcher in the Rye? Lundquist suggests that what he

    (Holden) is actually praying for is a means of saving himself from himself through

    himself(49). As Holden walks up Fifth Avenue, he feels this great anxiety that he

    starts to pray for help from his younger brother Allie. Holden, however, finds that all

    those anxieties were embedded in the memories of Allie and the sacrilege of his death

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    as well. In order to save himself, Holden realizes he has to look back at himself.

    Holden can therefore understand the roots of his sadness (his own attitude and

    emotions) and get rid of it by himself.

    The use of Koan is not restricted to Nine Stories. According to James Lundquist,

    Koans, or Zen riddles, are also used in The Catcher in the Rye. Koans are often used

    by Zen masters to test their students. Koans are asked to enlighten Zen students on

    some questions or problems related to life and values. They often enlighten students

    that the Koan itself is not be grasped. For example, Holden says, I mean how do you

    know what youre going to do till you do it?(276), when he replies to his doctors

    question how he is going to apply himself as he goes back to school. The second

    example is when Holden replies to D.B. what he thinks of the story he has finished

    telling, Holden says, If you want to know the truth, I dont know what I think about

    it(276-277). The third one is Dont ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start

    missing everybody(277) after he himself was beaten up by the pimp. Through

    contemplating koans students are to realize that life itself can never be grasped.

    Letting go of life is therefore the acceptance of life as life. Lundquist points out that

    this insight is the illumination that Holden has reached by the time the story is over.

    Gerald Rosen, however, believes that there is no absolute answer in the story that

    we can hold on to. He explains that, As Salinger certainly knows, tradition has it that

    when the Buddha was dying he was asked for one final piece of advice and he replied,

    Work out your own salvation with diligence(96). He believes that, as a koan has no

    right answer, the readers should also read the story as a koan and find the truth on

    their own. Rosen suggests that the frequent use of koans in Salingers works reveals

    its support of the Buddhist idea- absence of absolutes.

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    James Lundqusit suggests that there are at least four phases in Salingers career.

    Salingers early stories portray characters estrangement as a result of World War Two.

    His third and fourth phases are represented by two different works Nine Stories and

    Franney and Zooey respectively. Lundquist mentions that the second stage is

    represented by The Catcher in the Rye, and Salingers attempt in that book to deal

    with estrangement and isolation through a Zen-inspired awakening and lonely

    benevolence(2). Estrangement, isolation, loneliness are typical human sufferings in

    the modern world. Going through these sufferings offers Holden the experience to

    taste what life is about. This is exactly the process each Zen practitioner (including

    Gautama himself) must go through in order to attain satori.

    In the final chapter, Holden has come to the essential question What is the

    nature of reality? James Lundquist points out that the answer resides in the dynamic

    relationship between childhood and maturity, between the static and the changeable,

    between thought and action, and between the outer and inner worlds a reality that is

    an existentialist datum of physical and emotional experience. This datum, which has

    its immediate basis in Christian thought, finds its ultimate rationale in Buddhism(4),

    Lundquist suggests that the ending of the Catcher in the Rye actually points directly to

    life an essential element in Zen Buddhism. Holden says, If you want to know the

    truth, I dont know what I think about it(213-214). Here Holden questions the reality

    of life, though he claims it is only a stupid question(213) when he asks, I mean

    how do you know what youre going to do till you do it. The answer is, you dont. I

    think I am, but how do I know?(213).

    To build on what Lundquist suggests we can see that The Catcher in the Rye

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    even goes further to suggest how Zen Buddhism sees reality. Holden in fact dislikes a

    realism that is too strictly realistic. For example, in the play with the Lunts, Holden

    says the trouble was it was too much like people talking and interrupting each

    other(112). Holden sees the surroundings as neither real or unreal. Oftentimes

    Holden is telling us what he thinks rather than what he really sees. This viewpoint is

    very much in common with the Buddhist idea that everything is empty, as suggested

    in Wisdom of the Buddha the Unabridged Dhammapada. In Buddhsim, there is no

    such thing as real or unreal. It very much depends on how you see it rather than how it

    exists. Buddhist practitioners are taught to get rid of their desires by learning to see

    the world as an empty world where nothing exists..

    Many other critics have been more interested in discussing the representation of

    innocence thorough children in The Catcher in the Rye. Very few of them, however,

    have correlated the idea with Zen Buddhism. In fact, Holdens strong wish to return to

    childhood very much reflects the close association between Salingers works and the

    ideas of Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism stresses the idea of simplicity and the

    spontaneity of the self. According to D.T. Suzuki, the ordinary logical process of

    reasoning is powerless to give final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs(59).

    He also adds that the truth and power of Zen consists in its very simplicity,

    directness(36) Against all phoniness and hypocrisy of adulthood, Holden has a strong

    wish to return to the very innocence which only a child can possess. Holdens love for

    his sister Phoebe and his memories of his childhood both reveal his craving for

    simplicity and the ultimate peace of mind.

    The scene where Holden sees Phoebe riding around and around the carousel has

    been considered by many critics as one of the most important pictures in the story.

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    According to Warren French in J.D. Salinger, Salinger even recalls this scene in his

    story The Inverted Forest by naming the title of Fords second book of poems Man

    on a Carousel. According to Warren French, the name is a further indication of the

    poet (Ford)s rejection of the busy world of news magazines and cocktail parties

    where people are constantly preoccupied with getting somewhere(84). In fact,

    referring to another poem by Ford in The Inverted Forest, French suggests that

    Salinger is very much influenced by Zen Buddhsim as he (the narrator) says what

    beauties the world possesses are all underground, one need not be able to see them

    in any material sense. One can live entirely within his imagination(84). This very

    much accords with the Zen idea that one should feel with intuition and imagination

    rather than by material senses or logic. Warren French even goes further to suggest,

    This absorption (the reaction of a child or adolescent to the disillusioning discovery

    of the phoniness of the adult world) was to culminate in Holden Caulfields

    recognition, in the final version of The Catcher in the Rye, that children cant be kept

    from grabbing for the gold ring(85).

    It is also noteworthy that Holden is very much suspicious of any form of

    organized religion. He is always against the worship of any form of God. In Zen

    Buddhsim, there is no one single god to worship. Every Zen practitioner should look

    to himself for directions to enlightenment. Even Gautama is never considered a God

    by the Zen Buddhist practitioners (different from some Buddhist sects which pay

    respects to the Buddha statute in the temple). Gautama himself is also a human being

    like you and me who goes through all types of real-life sufferings and finally achieves

    the stage of enlightenment under the Bo-tree. Buddhist practitioners are reminded that

    the Buddha is never an idol. Any Zen practitioner can achieve what Gautama


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    According to D.T. Suzuki, the object of Zen discipline consists in acquiring a

    new viewpoint for looking into the essence of things(P.88). Holden also presents to

    us his belief in this very concept throughout the story of The Catcher in the Rye.

    Holden keeps questioning the things and values surrounding him in the story. He is

    always eager to find himself a different perspective when looking at the things around

    him. He always bears with himself this intense wish to break away from conventional

    education. He always longs for returning to naturalness and un-self-consciousness.

    Warren French also considers Holden Caulfield as a non-conformist. He cites Ihab

    Hassan and Paul Levine, who examine Salingers works chronologically in order to

    study his concentration upon a type of Non-conformist that Levine labels the misfit

    hero (111).

    In addition, Zen Buddhism is never considered to be a religion. Zen Buddhism is

    not a religion because, according to D.T. Suzuki, it does not have a set of philosophies

    or rules for its practitioners to follow. There are, however, some values and standards

    that practitioners can realize through contemplating many koans and riddles that Zen

    masters give them. In the following Koan, the very idea of Zen Buddhism that the

    world can be perceived as empty is presented. :

    The Bodhi (True Wisdom) is not like the tree;

    The mirror bright is nowhere shining:

    As there is nothing from the first,

    Where does the dust itself collect?

    (P.48 Chapter 3 Is Zen Nihilistic? An Introduction to Zen Buddhism)

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    Zen Buddhism tells its practitioners that they should not feel any anxiety over

    any matters related to fame and fortune. Zen believes that if one does not see money

    as fortune or name as fame, but rather money as simply money and name as just name,

    then there would not be any things to feel unhappy about (same as where does the

    dust itself collect if there is nothing from the first?). If there were no desires, we

    would not feel unhappy as a result of disappointment. In The Catcher in the Rye,

    Holden never takes money and fame into account throughout the story. It is only

    through children (like Phoebe) who represent the very idea of innocence that he finds

    happiness and satisfaction again in his life.

    3. Nine Stories

    According to James Lundquist, the closest analogue to Salingers religious

    thought is, of course, Zen Buddhism, which is essential to an understanding of Nine

    Stories. Nine Stories is particularly well-known for its epigraph

    We know the sound of two hands clapping,

    But what is the sound of one hand clapping?

    A Zen Koan

    According to D.T. Suzuki, koan denotes some anecdote of an ancient master, or

    a dialogue between a master and monks, or a statement or question put forward by a

    teacher, all of which are used as the means for opening ones mind to the truth of

    Zen(99). Suzuki also adds that the koan is used as a starter and it gives an initial

    movement to the racing for Zen experience(99). As James Lundquist suggests,

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    Salingers stories are often thought of as riddles and the question that prefaces Nine

    Stories is an example of a koan. He further suggests that readers should contemplate

    the riddle which is designed to force the mind to the point where reason is unable to

    divide, separate, and categorize, a point at which enlightenment or satori should

    occur(77). In Zen Buddhism, practitioners should learn to take away reason in their

    mind. Contemplating koan is a good way to help them develop the ability to think out

    questions without reasoning. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, in The

    Fiction of J.D. Slinger, add the comment that the koan makes a perfect epigraph for a

    writer who wishes to entitle his book nine stories. The title Nine Stories itself does

    not tell what these stories are about. The koan serves as another hint to the readers

    that these stories are open to interpretation, just like a koan which inspires a person to

    come to an understanding without reasoning. Gwynn and Blotner base their argument

    on the fact that koans of Zen Buddhism are to stimulate ones mind to go forward to

    the point which is beyond sense. They add that the reader has not to apply the

    quotation to the tales but simply to be thereby aware that the tales present problems

    which he may or may not solve for himself by suprasensory perception(42).

    Looking at Salingers short stories from a way suggested by the Zen koan that

    prefaces the collection, Lundquist believes they become calligraphic paintings, reach

    their artistic high point in a tea ceremony, and have the arrangement of a Japanese

    garden(112). With this rather picturesque analogy, Lundquist points out that the

    purpose of a Salinger story is reached at the moment of epiphany (as in the short

    stories of Chekhov and Joyce)(70), when the character comes to the true nature of a

    situation (the moment of enlightenment or satori). John Wenke also notes that in

    contemplating the koans the characters will achieve the Zen enlightenment in many of

    the stories in the collection. In J.D. Salinger A Study of the Short Fiction, he says,

  • 18

    Many of the nine stories turn on a characters apparently stunning realization(31).

    This realization is like a moment of epiphany or satori where a person is suddenly

    disillusioned. He names a number of examples: the intoxicated Eloise weeping over

    her daughters eyeglasses, Sergeant X beginning to regain his faculties after

    unwrapping the gift from Esm, etc.

    Salinger relies heavily on the child as a symbol in Nine Stories. Lundquist

    believes that the children in Nine Stories are used to symbolize unlimited freedom.

    Lundquist believes that the Zen Koan that prefaces Nine Stories leads us through a

    number of questions. Questions like Can someone hear something where there is no

    sound?, Can any sound be made by a hand which had nothing to hit against? The

    most important one is whether one can obtain knowledge of his own real nature

    Can the mind hit against itself? Lundquist provides an answer to the koan by

    quoting a description by Dumoulin he who lifts one hand and while listening

    quietly can hear a sound which no ears hear, can surpass all conscious knowledge. He

    can leave the world of distinctions behind him; he may cross the ocean of the karma

    of rebirths, and he may break through the darkness of ignorance. In the enlightenment

    he attains to unlimited freedom(76). In order to present this unlimited freedom,

    Salinger relies on children to symbolize this idea as freedom is most easily

    symbolized in children to the western mind. Bernice and Sanford Goldstein in their

    critical essay Zen and Nine Stories believe that children have the imaginative

    machinery which has not yet been broken by demanding parents; Children do not

    yet rationalize every action and in them spontaneity comes as easily as breath and

    whose minds have not yet dichotomized language, persona, places, things(160).

    Lundquist also suggests that the ending of Salingers stories also shows signs of

  • 19

    Zen ideas. He says Salingers stories often end in a puzzling way. Readers are then

    forced to ask what happened and what it actually meant. When readers are trying to

    answer those questions, they will find themselves in the same dilemma as the student

    of Zen(34). Through this process, the student and the readers can try to vomit up

    the apple of logic as the Zen master and the author guide us toward the Way of Zen.

    Here Lundquist fails to give any concrete examples about how the endings of the

    stories lead us to think like a Zen practitioner.

    Puzzling as they are, the endings of Salingers stories often involve characters

    undergoing moments of epiphany. Characters often come to a moment where they

    start to realize something (what it actually is may be puzzling), particularly when they

    come upon children in the story. These moments of epiphany are very much in

    common with the Zen enlightenment/satori the students attain after their master have

    guided them through contemplation of koans and disposal of logic. Warren French

    also supports this view saying he (Salinger) sympathizes with those who learn

    through blinding revelations (like Lois Tagget and Eloise and Holden Caulfield and

    De Daumier-Smith) rather than through methodical thinking(36).

    Lundquist also suggests that each of the stories can be seen as a verse which

    serves to comment on the koan with which the book begins. Lundquist says that the

    Zen master would usually require that the student present a verse from Zenrin Kushu,

    an anthology of some five-thousand two-line poems, compiled by Toyo Eicho

    (1429-1504), or from some other book which expresses the point of koan just solved.

    Each story gives puzzles to the readers that leads us closer to the Buddhist view of the

    Universe. These puzzles often echo with the koan that also aims at getting rid of all

    logic from our minds and leading us to the Way of Zen.

  • 20

    The most obvious relationship between Zen art and Salingers writing is of

    course between the wordless poetry of the haiku and the careful use of language in

    the stories(111), Lundquist says. Haiku is a form of Japanese poem that consists of

    seventeen syllables only. Through the use of empty space, it tries, through a single

    image, to convey the same effect as Zen painting does. Zen paintings often gives a

    quiet and simple impression with their light colours and simple lines. According to

    Lundquist, the same effect is also achieved by Salingers stories it is the sound that

    we feel as much as anything at the end of A Perfect Day for Bananafish, The

    Laughing Man, and Teddy, a silence that is the sound of one hand clapping(111).

    Though hearing no sound after reading the stories, readers do hear the sound that

    strikes their minds to think about them.

    Lundquist even compares Salingers stories with Chinese calligraphy which has

    strong Zen ideas behind. Lundquist thinks the impression left by each of Salingers

    stories is similar to the feeling left by the calligraphic style of painting done with

    black ink on paper or silk that was practiced by Chinese artists in the eighteenth

    century. The objective of these Chinese paintings is unhesitating spontaneity(111),

    and where a single stroke is often enough to give away ones character(111).

    Lundquist believes that the stories are just like the pictures themselves designed to

    bring about satori. Lundquist also suggests that Salingers stories and other Zen art are

    very much alike as Zen art cannot not be prolific by its very nature. Salinger is of

    course not a prolific writer. Lundquist, however, does not establish the point that Zen

    is the only reason behind Salingers rather limited production. Lundquist fails to go

    into details as to why Zen art cannot be prolific. Salinger is also so much inside his

    own stories that these stories become an interior monologue(111) in which the

  • 21

    writer moves toward satori just like a Zen garderner who keeps caring for his plants

    so that he becomes part of the garden himself. In other words, Lundquist suggests that

    Salinger gets himself immersed in the stories that he himself is undergoing the same

    process as the characters are in attaining satori. Here Salinger is also like a painter

    painting bamboos. The painter has to observe the bamboos for ten years so that he can

    become a bamboo himself. Only through this process can the painter forget

    everything and simply paint without logic but spontaneity.

    A Perfect Day for Bananafish

    Similar to other stories by Salinger, a child character plays an essential role in

    representing the idea of innocence in A Perfect Day for Bananafish. The

    ten-year-old child, Sybil Carpenter, also possesses the spontaneity and simplicity that

    Salinger carefully develops and represents in most of his other child characters in

    Nine Stories. This quality of simplicity, spontaneity and directness are the very

    fundamental elements of Zen Buddhism. It is through these child characters that

    Salinger brings to his readers the importance of the very intuitive kind of love. James

    Lundquist compares the playful question-and-answer conversation between Seymour

    and Sybil with the Zen master-student relationship while John Wenke in J.D. Salinger

    A Study of the Short Fiction sees that the conversations juxtapose two competing

    frames of reference: a normative adult world of materialistic concerns and a childs

    world of imaginative play(34). Both Lundquist and Wenke support the fact that Zen

    ideas are embedded in the story as shown through the relationship between an adult

    and a child characters. Warren French even names his quest for a childs spontaneity

    as the major cause for Seymours suicide. In his view, he (Seymour) believes that the

    world of well-composed people which Muriel represents has lost the child-like

  • 22

    exuberance that reading Rilke and romancing about bananafish might restore. His

    feelings have been intensified by Sybils response to his fantasies, so that he returns to

    his room in the tensest possible state of excitement(35).

    Bernice and Sanford Goldstein go further to suggest the Zen idea of innocence

    is presented not only through the child character Sybil but Seymour as well. They

    believe, Seymour is so attuned to the world of Sybil that he can respond with almost

    perfect spontaneity to the spontaneous overflow of joy, of seriousness, of destruction

    even, of Sybils own verbal agility(86). Examples can be drawn from their lively

    conversation. When Sybil tells Seymour she likes to chew candles, Seymour replies;

    Who doesnt?(10) immediately. When Sybil corrects Seymour saying there are only

    six tigers going round the tree, Seymour says Only six! Do you call that only?(10)

    Seymour also responds to Sybil enthusiastically when Sybil tells him she sees a

    bananafish. Their dialogues show that they are perfectly attuned with each other and

    there seems no line of separation between the world of children and the adult world.

    Many critics comment that A Perfect Day for Bananafish is the most enigmatic

    and perplexing story among Salingers works in Nine Stories. Perplexing as it is, the

    ending of the story is in fact a clear representation of the koan. The ending of the story

    in fact echoes with the epigraph at the beginning of the collection But what is the

    sound of one hand clapping? The suicide of Seymour at the end of the story is like

    one hand clapping conceptually as the author presents Seymours suicide in such a

    subtle way that we cannot even hear the pistol shot. The suicide of Seymour is in no

    way portrayed as tragic or sad. It is presented to the readers as a fact that Seymour

    simply, fired a bullet through his right temple(12). Here the ending of the story

    serves as a koan for the readers to contemplate ones own real nature. This koan

  • 23

    inspires us to get rid of some conventional values or standards, namely the horror of


    Lundquist also brings to us another important koan in the story Did you see

    more glass?(6) Sybil keeps repeating this question when her mother puts sun-tan oil

    on her shoulders. Lundquist points out that the glass here can mean a mirror and a

    window. Lundquist, however, suggests that a reflected image is false and unreal.

    Trying to understand oneself through a mirror is wrong as the reflected image is

    merely vanity. On the other hand, one can see through oneself and thereby gain a

    better understanding of oneself though a window. Here the koan serves to lead the

    readers to the point that the glass of illusion is shattered.(82)

    Another important idea of Zen Buddhism is presented in the story as Seymour

    and Sybil are discussing the story of Little black Sambo and the six tigers who run

    around the tree until they turn into butter. The picture that the tigers are running

    around the tree in fact connotes the Great Round of existence, the wheel of life, in

    Zen Buddhism. Buddhism advocates that one should not get oneself immersed in the

    endless round of existence. Seymour says I thought theyd (the tigers) never

    stop(10). Those tigers which keep running around the tree finally melt into butter.

    This inspires us not to get trapped in the endless round of existence like the tigers

    which ended up melting into butter.

    The suicide of Seymour is symbolically related to the idea of Nirvana in Zen

    Buddhism. Nirvana is in fact the third truth among The Four Noble Truths in

    Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths were set forth by the Buddha in The Fire

    Sermon. The first truth involves an inescapable fact of human life suffering. The

  • 24

    second truth relates to the cause of suffering thinking that one can grasp ones life

    and control it. The third is Nirvana, the ending of self-frustration. The fourth is the

    Eightfold Path which is a method by which self-frustration is brought to an end and

    Nirvana is realized. The Eightfold Path involves the attainment of complete view,

    complete understanding, complete (truthful) speech, complete action, complete

    vocation, complete application, complete recollectedness, and complete

    contemplation. According to Lundquist, Seymours letting go of his life is like the

    concept of blowing out a flame as in Nirvana. The discussion of Little Black Sambo

    and the parable of the bananafish shows that Seymour has realized the cause of

    suffering and he seems to have completed the Eightfold Path. Nirvana is a stage

    where there should not be any desire, motivation or acquisition. Nirvana can never be

    attained as it is a state of infinity. As Lundquist puts it, the apparent lack of

    motivation in Seymours suicide is thus tangentially justifiable(86). Seymours

    suicide comes rather unexpectedly at the end of the story. He did not show any

    intention or motivation to kill himself throughout the story.

    Warren French, though not directly pointing out its relationship with Zen

    Buddhism, does mention the tragedy of the bananafish which can only kill themselves

    in order to end their desire, the cause of their sufferings. The bananafish in the story

    have such an insatiable desire for bananas (they behave like pigs) (11) that they all

    swim into a small hole and eat as many bananas as they can. They even end up losing

    their lives for their desire as they cannot get out of the hole as they are just too fat.

    This is in line with the Buddhist concept that From lust comes grief, from lust comes

    fear; he who is free from lust knows neither grief nor fear(26), according to Wisdom

    of the Buddha The Unabridged Dhammapada. Referring to William Wiegand

    (Seventy-Eight Bananas, Chicago Review, 1958), Warren French says Salingers

  • 25

    major heroes have banana fever, a spiritual illness characterized by the individuals

    inability either to distinguish between important and unimportant experiences or to

    realize that he cannot retain all of them(87). Such a banana fever is in fact a

    symbol of insatiable lust that Zen Buddhism advocates that people should get rid of.

    Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut

    Similar to Sybils Whirly Wood, the heroine Eloise lives in a suburb that is

    also in symbolic association with the Everlasting Round. Lundquist believes the

    fact that the story takes place on a darkening winter day is a direct reminder of

    Seymours bananafish hole in A Perfect Day for Bananafish. This reiteration of

    ideas from one story to another, Lundquist suggests, is a technique that continues

    throughout the collection of short stories and serves to reinforce the Koan-structure of

    the book. This further tells that the koan in the epigraph not only prefaces the book

    but also serves as a major theme throughout the book.

    Child characters, as in other stories by Salinger, play an important role in this

    story. Ramona, Eloises daughter, has problems with her eyes and has to wear very

    thick glasses. Here this thick pair of glasses serves as a symbol of a different

    perspective as in the previous story. Ramona is a figure of imagination and

    spontaneity. John Wenkes description of Ramona serves as a good proof of her

    spontaneity: afflicted with myopia, peers at the world through thick lensesshe

    picks her nose, scratches herself, and uses faulty grammar(39) It is not until Eloise

    sees through the thick glasses of her child Ramona (she picks up Ramonas glasses

    and begins to cry as she says Poor Uncle Wiggily over and over again) that she

    begins to come to the moment of enlightenment. Zen masters lead their students to

  • 26

    forget about logic and to stop relying on their senses. Here the pair of thick glasses is

    even better than the healthy naked eyes in understanding ones true self. In John

    Wenkes words, Ramonas glasses connect her (Eloise) to her own innocent and lost

    world of Walt Glass, a connection reinforced by the association with the childrens

    story of Uncle Wiggily(41). Bernice and Sanford Goldstein also refer to Eloises

    replacing Ramonas glasses shown at the end of the story as a symbolic gesture(83).

    The pair of glasses being folded neatly and laid stems down in fact reveals the lack

    of vision of the adult whose perpetual conflict is her marriage to her husband and the

    death of the spontaneous Walt(83).

    In fact, though not a positive comment, Warren French also supports the idea that

    Salingers stories very much concern the innocent, illogical world of the children

    (supported by Zen) and the phony world of the adult. He concludes that these basic

    concepts of the perishability of the nice world and the phoniness of the persisting

    world provide the warp on which Salinger weaves with an increasingly deft hand the

    intricate, colorful patterns devised by the fancy of a conscientious craftsman(46).

    Eloise recollects her happy days with Walt before he got killed by a stove which

    blew up. She remembers one time, when she and Walt were riding on a train, he

    placed his hand on her stomach and said it is so beautiful he wished some officer

    would come up and order him to stick his other hand through a window(20). James

    Lundquist suggests that, in saying this, Walt is in fact expressing a koan of sorts.

    Lundquist says it actually reflects the Buddhist conception of the duality of opposites,

    that there are pleasures so great that the only way they can be comprehended is

    through contemplation of pain that would be equally great.(88)

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    Bernice and Sanford Goldstein even believe that Walt is in fact well on the road

    to awareness of this Zen idea when Eloise says Walt wanted to do what was fair(20).

    To be fair in Zen means recognizing that beauty, pain, death or sorrow are not

    separated. Walt did not think being a general in the army is anything special or noble.

    Instead, he describes it as nakedness with a small infantry button stuck in the navel.

    Walt is able to realize the Zen viewpoint that one has to reduce the self to its barest

    quality of identity with all things, all beings (21), as suggested by D.T. Suzuki.

    At the end of the story, Eloise leaves Ramona in the room upstairs. She goes

    back downstairs, wakes up Mary Jane and asks her I was a nice girl, wasnt I?(27)

    This reveals s strong longing for the innocence and simplicity that only a young child

    can possess. Eloise wishes to return to childhood and forget about the logic in the

    adult world. To Lundquist, this question is deemed to be a plea in the form of a

    koan(89). Here Eloise seems to achieve satori where she understands more about

    herself. Warren French also supports the view that there is a moment of enlightenment

    that Eloise experiences at the end of the story. In the third (scene), we witness

    her(Eloise) sudden recognition of what has happened to her(40). His viewpoint is

    similar to Lundquists. He describes Eloise as a character in Dantes Inferno who

    cannot escape but who has just discovered where he really is(40). Bernice and

    Sanford Goldstein, however, do not suggest full enlightenment at the end of the story.

    Rather, they point out that Eloise is unable to solve the puzzle of her existence and

    she is almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown(84). Like Franny and Zooey,

    characters in Franny and Zooey These are two stories by J.D. Salinger, Eloise has

    reached the stage of partial enlightenment only.

    I t is noteworthy that again at the end of the story the enlightenment that Eloise

  • 28

    goes through is not presented in words but by images. According to Lundquist, it is in

    the tradition of Zen that the real message always remains unspoken and that what

    cannot be conveyed by speech can nevertheless be communicated by direct pointing.

    An example is quoted which says the Buddha actually transmitted the meaning of

    awakening to his chief disciple by holding up a flower and saying nothing. It is in the

    Buddhist tradition that a Buddhist practitioner should learn by their own senses rather

    than being taught to follow guidelines.

    Warren French also gives a good example to support the representation of

    innocence in the story. In his view, Uncle Wiggily was borrowed by Walt from

    Howard Garis Childrens stories about a whimsical rabbit. Eloise treasures very much

    the memory that once, when she twisted her ankle, Walt called it Poor Uncle

    Wiggily. This again shows Eloises strong wish to return to the innocent world of

    children as opposed to the phony world she is living in as an adult.

    Just before the War with the Eskimos

    Franklin in this story is very much immersed in the round of pain and suffering.

    He is very disheveled and repulsive looking. He keeps complaining about cutting his

    finger on some razorblades while reaching into a wastepaper basket. However, as

    Lundquist suggests, Franklin is suddenly moved by Ginnie at one moment in the story.

    Franklin says he doesnt like his finger when it stings while he is holding his bleeding

    finger. Obviously Franklin wishes to get rid of the pain in his finger. He, however,

    finds no way to deal with his pain at the beginning. Ginnie replies to him that he

    should stop touching it. At this very instant Franklin sort of stumbles into awakening

    that he did not know how to respond to As though responding to electric

  • 29

    shockSelenas brother pulled back his injured hand. He sat up a trifle straighter or

    rather, slumped a trifle less. He looked at some object on the other side of the room.

    An almost dreamy expression came over his disorderly features(32). It seems that

    Franklin has realized the cause of his sufferings. He seems to realize to stop the pain

    one has to stop touching it. He realized that suffering is, in a sense, its own cause.

    According to Chapter 14 Pleasure in Wisdom of the Buddha The Unabridged

    Dhammapada, Not to see what is pleasant is pain. And it is pain to see what is


    The traits of a child can be traced through the character of Franklin as well.

    According to Bernice and Sanford Goldstein, like Holden Caulfield, Franklin hangs

    suspended between adolescence and adulthood(42). When Franklin works at the

    airplane factory, be becomes friends with a young man called Eric who manifests

    cartoonish, effeminate affectations(42).

    Franklin is not the only one who experiences satori in the story. Ginnie also

    undergoes enlightenment as she takes a bite of the half of the chicken sandwich

    extended to her by Franklin. Franklin insists that Ginnie takes a bite of the sandwich.

    The sandwich takes on a sacramental quality and suggests the underlying fable of

    incarnation the revelation of spirit through matter that runs through this story and

    most of the others in Nine Stories(91). Lundquist explains. By taking a bite of the

    sandwich, Ginnie is able to get a taste of Fanklins life. By tasting Frankins life,

    Ginnie is able to better understand her own self. She discovers her own phoniness and

    her being too self-centred in her relationship with Selena. She finally decides to return

    the money to Selena and even suggests going out with Selena on the night. Lundquist

    does not explain why he comes up with such an interpretation. It is, however, clear

  • 30

    that Ginnie decides to make up with Selena after she has taken a bite of the sandwich.

    It is also true that there should never be any logical process leading to enlightenment.

    Taking a bite of sandwich can well be a moment of enlightenment for Ginnie.

    Though both Ginnie and Franklin have reached enlightenment at the end of the

    story, the extent of liberation they achieve is in fact rather limited. According to

    Lundquist, both Ginnie and Franklin are caught in an endless round of things

    she(Ginnie) in her pettiness, he(Franklin) in his awareness of his own suffering and

    his tendency to feel sorry for himself(92). In fact, Lundquist suggests that the title of

    the story Just Before the War with the Eskimos has already underscored the extent

    of liberation with which it ends. Both of the characters are trapped in this endless

    cycle of mortal foolishness where people are bound by their own desires and

    sufferings. Franklin even prophesies that the next war will be against the Eskimos.

    War oftentimes springs from desires of human beings. Human beings are very much

    trapped in their desires that they lost their directions. They would even go to fight

    with the Eskimos from whom they have nothing to get.

    The Laughing Man

    The process of awakening also occurs at the end of the story. The revelations

    involved, however, are rather chilly. They can even seem like punishment at the

    moment they occur. However, Lundquist believes this time round the character of the

    Chief is moving away from enlightenment. The Chief has in fact given up trying to

    hear the sound of one hand clapping. The Laughing Man represents the

    spontaneous, irrational and imaginative world of childhood. At the end of the story,

    however, the chief decides to strip away the Laughing Mans mask. In so doing, the

  • 31

    Chief is in fact destroying his own belief in the value of irrational exuberance(94).

    According to Bernice and Sanford Goldstein, the Chief in fact, strips away the mask

    of laughter, of irrational exuberance, of the transitional jerk where one can cross the

    border from China into France, where in effect one can hear the sound of a single


    Warren French, however, has a quite different viewpoint in this respect. He

    suggests the epiphany takes place after the narrator leaves the bus and sees the piece

    of red tissue paper flapping against the lamppost. It is because, as he believes, it is

    the sight of this discarded paper that recalls the laughing mans mask and not the

    abrupt ending of the story in the bus that sets the young narrators teeth chattering,

    events in both Gedsudskis story and real life have combined to rip away a childs

    illusions about the world(46). Though different from Lundquists version, Frenchs

    interpretation of the epiphany in the story may well serve to support Lunquists point

    on the dire consequences the way to Zen can lead to.

    The story of the Laughing Man plays a key role in delivering the Zen messages

    in the short story. According to Lundquist, The Laughing Man provided him (the

    narrator) with an objective correlative of his own original face, the perception of the

    self beyond the self that is more possible in the Zen world of children than it is in the

    conventional world of adulthood(93). The narrator has been longing for the Zen idea

    of the innocent and carefree life or the true identity, the natural laughter as he himself

    describes. As he says, I was not even my parents son in 1928, but a devilishly

    smooth imposter, awaiting their slightest blunder as an excuse to move in preferably

    without violence, but not necessarily to assert my true identityBut the main thing

    I had to do in 1928 was watch my step. Play along with the farce. Brush my teeth.

  • 32

    Comb my hair. At all costs, stifle my natural hideous laughter(45). Many critics

    believe the Laughing Man story is in fact an autobiography for the Chief himself. For

    example, John Wenke suggests that The Laughing Mans story exists not only as a

    wild escapade but also as veiled autobiography(45). In that case, the Chief also

    mentions his own wish to return to the innocent childhood as well as the simplicity of

    nature. In the forest, the Laughing Man befriended any number and species of

    animalsMoreover, he removed his mask and spoke to them, softly, melodiously, in

    their own tongues. They did not think him ugly(43).

    The Laughing Man is in fact a story about the Chiefs attempt to try to discover

    his own original face. However, according to Lundquist, the reason that the chief

    finally achieves the opposite of liberation is because he has just tried to hard.

    Lundquist adds that the koan exercise toward satori is by no means a simple process.

    It is because of the fact that, as Lundquist says, the Chief is too caught up in the

    conventional world (the Chief is, after all, a law student) that he fails to better

    understand his real self through imagination and spontaneity. The Way of Zen is never

    easy and the process toward the Way of Zen can in fact lead to disaster. Lundquist

    bases his argument on Heinrich Dumoulins interpretation in History of Zen Buddhism

    that The unnatural suppression of reason is a gamble. It may destroy the psychic

    structure of a person permanently and irremediably.(96) This point is also shared by

    Bernice Goldstein and Sanford Goldstein who suggest that the struggle with a

    particular insoluble problem may lead to mental breakdown or enlightenment, satori.

    Down at the Dinghy

    As in many other stories by Salinger, the moment of enlightenment again comes

  • 33

    at the end of this story. This story includes another of Salingers precociously

    symbolic children. Again there is this child-adult conversation between Boo Boo and

    her four-year-old son Lionel. Same as many other Salingers stories in the collection,

    Boo Boo comes to the moment of enlightenment when she is moved by the innocence

    and spontaneity found in her kid. BooBoo asks her son Lionel if he knows what the

    word actually means after her son tells her he has overheard Sandra telling Mrs. Snell

    that his father is a big sloppy kike(63). What he replies to his mother is that Its

    one of those things that go up in the air, with string you hold(63). Boo Boo is

    extremely touched as she sees, as Lundquist puts it, how absurd the problems of the

    obscene adult world are when viewed through the mind of the child(97). Again the

    Zen idea of innocence come through a child figure in the story. John Wenke also asks

    the readers to listen for the sound of one hand clapping(47) when Lionel answers

    his mothers question. John Wenke believes it is Lionels unwitting declaration of

    innocence that reunites him with his mother.

    Warren French, however, tells us not all stories in the collection serve to

    illustrate the Zen enlightenment. He suggests that it (Down at the Dinghy) provides

    an example not of the story built around an epiphany but of the more complex

    theories of tragic or dramatic emotion (97) The characters in the story do not

    come to a moment of disillusionment. Rather, they are still suffering as they are all

    struck with pity and terror as a result of failure of communication in the adult world.

    Warren French does not show his stance in this respect in relation to Zen Buddhism.

    He does not dispute the storys association with Zen Buddhism with the absence of

    epiphany. It could, in fact, still be seen that the characters are in the course of getting

    rid of their sufferings but they have yet to reach the stage of satori.

  • 34

    For Esm with Love and Squalor

    This story ends with a moment of liberation when Sergeant X opens a package

    on his desk and finds a note from Esm along with her fathers wristwatch. Here the

    moment of enlightenment again involves the interaction of a child and an adult (Esm

    is only a thirteen-year-old girl). According to James Lundquist, this moment of

    liberation involves the human exchange of beatific signals(100). Lundquist believes

    that, though the crystal of the watch is broken and the watch may no longer be

    water-proof, it is what the watch points to in the Zen sense that is important. The

    watch here acts as a signal, just like the Buddhas flower, or the thick glasses in

    Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut and the chicken sandwich in Just before the War

    with the Eskimos, that prompts his (Sergeant X) awakening(100). The glass in the

    watch can be penetrated and seen through as the crystal is broken. Sergeant X is able

    to get in touch with the world of innocence and naivet again.

    A koan can be found at the center of the story. Charles asks the Sergeant a riddle

    - What did one wall say to the other wall?(75). The Sergeant fails to give an answer.

    Charles then gives the Sergeant the answer Meet you at the corner (75) and later

    on Charles asks him again. The Sergeant simply gives him the same answer. James

    Lundquist suggests that Charles, as a symbol of the Zen idea of innocence, is angry

    because a Zen student should work out the answer himself. According to Lundquist, a

    koan can be expressed only indirectly through citing a verse from scripture or a

    passage from literature that complements its meaning(100).

    Based on Lunquists argument, another reason as to why Charles stalks away in

    anger can be added. According to D.T. Suzuki, Zen abhors repetition or imitation of

  • 35

    any kind, for it kills(71). It is because Zen Buddhism advocates spontaneity and

    originality which both repetition and imitation lack. The Sergeant repeats Charless

    answer rather than working an answer on his own is against the Zen idea that one

    should find its way to Zen with spontaneity rather than by repetition or imitation.

    According to D.T. Suzuki, Their (Zen masters) intention is to set the minds of

    their disciples or of scholars free from being oppressed by any fixed opinions or

    prejudices or so-called logical interpretations(78). Warren French points out that the

    story puts great emphasis on ones spontaneity and passion. He says, one point of

    the story is surely that one should not be put off by disciplined exteriors that conceal

    compassionate hearts, for they bring what love there is to a world made squalid by

    those, like Corporal Z, who conceal a spiritual void beneath a smiling, photogenic

    surface(101). Warren French believes that Esm is in a double struggle to keep the

    spontaneity for Sergeant Xs soul as well as for her brother Charless. She sees herself

    as a keeper of her brother. For example, she asks her brother to return to kiss the

    Sergeant. And later in the story, she writes a compassionate letter to the Sergeant

    which leads him to disillusionment.

    As Bernice and Sanford Goldstein suggest, This unlimited freedom, at least in

    the Western meaning of the phrase, seems best reached by children(88). Children

    again play an important role in the story to deliver the Zen ideas of spontaneity,

    irrationality and imagination. According to Bernice and Sanford Goldstein, the story

    finds Sergeant X surviving the devastating squalor of war through the irrational

    response of not a Sibyl, but an Esm, certainly an emerald in the rough in spite of

    Esms attempts to enter the phony class(88). Esm is so childlike as to put down the

    exact time she and Sergeant X met and the elapse of time since they met in the letter.

  • 36

    The Goldsteins even add that she is so childlike as to note that she had not even

    observed if the soldier in question had a watch.

    Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes

    James Lundquist believes that this story does function within the collection much

    like The Laughing Man. It, however, presents the dangerous side of the Zen

    experience through characters who do not work their way through lifes essential


    Warren French adds that Pretty Mouth and Green Eyes also presents the Zen

    idea of unhesitating spontaneity again through the representation of child. He pays

    special attention to the title of the story. The title of the story actually comes from a

    poem that the husband had once written about his wife as he idealized her, but now

    he realizes that she doesnt even have green eyes she has eyes like goddam sea

    shells(131) Green eyes in fact have a special meaning not only in this story but

    throughout the whole collection. According to Warren French, green eyes are also

    mentioned in Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut and For Esm with Love and

    Squalor as attributes of a lovable child(131).

    De Daumier-Smiths Blue Period

    The painting drawn by M.Yoshoto is in fact a typical example of Zen art. The

    Japanese artist made this piece of memorable work which features a certain white

    goose flying through an extremely pale-blue skythe blueness of the sky, or an ethos

    of the blueness of the sky, reflected on birds feathers(103). Here the blueness of the

  • 37

    sky symbolizes the Zen vision of innocence, simplicity and pureness. On the contrary,

    the blues brought by Daumier-Smith are the deception and phoniness of the adult

    world. According to Lundquist, Daumier-Smith must overcome the blues and

    exchange them for the blueness of the sky(103).

    Sister Irma serves as a beatific signal in the story as the glasses and chicken

    sandwich do in other stories in the collection. Sister Irma, according to Lundquist,

    becomes a sign to him (Daumier-Smith), in her very Zen-like simplicity a beatific

    signal(104). Daumier-Smith is very much attracted to Sister Irmas simplicity as she

    encloses no photograph in her application, does not tell her age and leaves all of her

    work unsigned. However, later on, a letter from the Mother Superior of Sister Irmas

    convent saying the nun would not be allowed to continue her study at the academy

    deals a big blow to Daumier-Smith. Similar to other characters in the collection,

    Daumier-Smith ponders over his life on his way back home. He experiences a

    realization about himself and this new vision of life, involving his conception of the

    nature of human suffering and the horrible frustration of trying to control things(105),

    as Lundquist points out, that prepares him for the letting go that must precede


    Like other stories in the collection, De Daumier-Smiths Blue Period, as

    Lunquist says, features a first-person narrator who recollects s traumatic period in his

    life that ends with the most vivid account of Zen experience we find anywhere in

    Salinger.(105) When Daumier-Smith reaches out to prevent the woman shop

    assistant from falling down, he hits his fingertips on the glass and all of a sudden he

    experiences a flash of insight. According to Lunquist, at the instant, Daumier-Smith,

  • 38

    his desire to reach out through the invisible wall that separates them, enables him to

    experience self-transcendence and the ugliness of mans mortal nature as its worst

    turns into beauty(105). Later on Daumier-Smith realizes he should give Sister Irma

    her freedom to follow her own destiny. Daumier-Smith finally understands that

    everyone should try to discover the path of spiritual awareness as everyone is a

    nun(105) and one can only be illuminated when the point of letting go (105) is

    reached. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner think that it is more than a

    statement of release. They believe it is in fact a declaration of independence from the

    pure image he has subconsciously tried to preserve of his mother(39). According to

    D.T.Suzuki, If there is anything Zen strongly emphasizes, it is the attainment of

    freedom; that is, freedom from all unnatural encumbrances(41). Freedom is a central

    theme in Zen Buddhism. Not only does it free ones physical existence, but also ones

    mind in understanding the ultimate truth.

    Bernice and Sanford Goldstein also suggest that Daumier-Smith is already on

    the way toward a religious conversion of his own(92) as M. Yoshoto asks him at

    dinner whether he would prefer a chair in his room. Daumier-Smith replies, I said

    that the way the floor cushions were set right up against the wall, it gave me a good

    chance to practice keeping my back straight(105). Sitting straight on the floor and

    practicing meditation is an essential task for every Zen practitioner.


    Different from the way that Zen ideas figure in all of the earlier stories in the

    collection, Zen ideas are presented rather directly through the main character Teddy, a

    child prodigy who is a fervent believer in the Vedantic theory of incarnation, in this

  • 39

    story. Through the conversation between Teddy and Bob Nicholson, a young

    professor of education, we can see that Teddy believes he was a holy man in India in

    his last incarnation and that he almost reached Brahma or escaped from the round of

    birth and death except that he met a lady, andsort of stopped meditating(127). He

    also believes that he had his first mystic experience at the age of six when he saw his

    sister drinking milk and all of a sudden he realized his sister was God and the milk

    was God and everything was God.

    Teddy has the belief that all matter has no reality by itself. He believes that it is

    the mind which perceives the matter that gives it meaning. For example, when

    looking at orange peels, Teddy posits that they have actually started floating inside

    his mind. According to John Wenke, Teddy most clearly initiates Salingers serious

    preoccupation with displacing American culture in favor of an approach to experience

    that honors simplicity, spirituality, intuition, and egolessness(61). Wenke believes

    that Salinger is in support of a philosophy of antimaterialistic transcendence(61).

    Though not directly pointing out its Zen inclination, Wenke suggests that Salinger

    does apply the means of eventual spiritual salvation, or nirvana, (61) to transpose

    the myth of childhood innocence(61) into the Zen-related philosophy he advocates.

    Teddys vedantic beliefs are very much in line with the ideas advocated by Zen

    Buddhism. In the story Teddy says that logic is the first thing you have to get rid

    of(134). Lundquist suggests that Logic and intellectual stuff have to be vomited

    up, Teddy argues, if we want to see things correctly(107). Lundquist believes that

    Teddys disapproval of logic is in line with the Zen idea of intuition and spontaneity.

    Teddy even has his own theory of education. He believes he should show the children

    how to meditate so that they could find out who they are. Id just make them vomit

  • 40

    up every bit of the apple their parents and everybody made them take a bite out of

    (147). Teddys beliefs very much reinforce the rationale of the koan with which the

    book begins that truth eludes every attempt to catch it by logic (143). Teddy here

    also functions as a conclusion to the whole collection. The story serves to answer the

    opening koan which says What is the sound of one hand clapping? According to

    Bernice and Sanford Goldstein, Teddy serves to show us the importance of moving

    beyond the easy laws of logic(92) and being raised to a higher level of awareness of

    the real worlds of tension, contradiction, paradox, humor, love and squalor(92).

    Teddys viewpoint of life and death, his action and activity are all beyond reason and

    logical interpretation. To hear the sound of one hand clapping one must first discard

    the laws of logic.

    Teddy has a strong zeal in presenting many of the ideas of Zen Buddhism. This

    viewpoint is very much supported by Warren French who says that, He (J.D.

    Salinger) had also begun to develop the enthusiasm for Zen Buddhism that has often

    been reflected in works like Teddy and Seymour(134). French, however, adds the

    following, even though there is no indication that Salinger really grasps the

    principles of this paradox-ridden Oriental cult(134). James Lundquist, on the other

    hand, has a strong belief that Salingers works are heavily loaded with Zen ideas.

    Warren French, however, insists the ideas in Salingers works are Zen-related rather

    than establishing any solid relationship between them.

    The strong inclination to the Zen idea of naturalness and simplicity is again

    featured in the story. Teddy has once said that in the story that he would prefer just to

    be like an elephant, or bird, or trees. According to Warren French, his (Teddy)

    longing is an example of the nostalgia for a return to the uncorrupted life of

  • 41

    uncivilized creatures which colors the party held in La Dolce Vita by Steiner (who

    later kills his children) and which is also exhibited by Holden Caulfields dream of

    being a catcher in the rye(134). This strong inclination towards nature is also

    echoed by the Laughing Mans close connection with animals in the collection.

    Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner also draw to our attention that

    through Teddy an important Zen idea is put across to the readers knowing that

    things are what they are and that living and dying are neither good nor evil(41). A

    very significant Zen idea is that birth and death are no longer important, as D.T.

    Suzuki says, for there are no such dualities anywhere; we live even through

    death(60). Besides, in Zen one should recognize facts as facts as one should never

    get entangled in intellectual subtleties. Under Zen Buddhism one should deal with

    facts with direct simplicity, freedom and originality. In The Fiction of J.D. Salinger,

    they conclude: He (Teddy) is a mystic who receives his inevitable death with a

    spiritual equanimity that contrasts starkly with the logical and emotional egocentricity

    of everybody else in the story(42).

    4. Conclusion

    There are no better conclusions to sum up the above research than quoting

    Bernice and Sanford Goldstein in Zen and Salinger, The importance of the present

    moment; the long search and struggle in which reason, logic, cleverness, and intellect

    prove ineffectual; the inadequacy of judgment and criticism which reinforce and

    stimulate the artificial boundary between self and other; and some degree of

    enlightenment which results from the non-rational and spontaneous blending of

    dualities, an enlightenment which permits experience that is complete and

  • 42

    unadulterated and makes the moment and, in effect, life non-phoney all these

    aspects of Zen can be found in Salingers world(93).

    It is noteworthy that no critics are against the point of view that Salingers works

    are in one way or another associated with the ideas of Zen Buddhism. Critics mainly

    focus on three main areas in suggesting the relationship between Zen Buddhism and

    Salingers works. They are the comparison between the journey of Gautama and that

    of Holden, the Zen idea of innocence and spontaneity as well as the moment of

    enlightenment or satori. Critics, however, tend to be careful in establishing

    relationships between Salingers works and Zen as it is very hard to find evidence

    from the author himself due to J.D. Salinger notorious seclusion. Their arguments,

    therefore, are mostly based on the text itself and the their interpretation of Zen

    Buddhism through D.T. Suzukis works. It is also worth to discuss why Salinger is

    interested in presenting the above three Zen ideas. This, however, would require some

    detailed analysis of the authors earlier works and, if possible, his personal


  • 43


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    Hall 1995 New Jersey Merriam Websters Encyclopedia of Literature 1995 Merriam-Webster Springfield J.D. Salinger: Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye Little, Brown & Co 1998 Boston Salinger, J.D. For Esm ~ with Love and Squalor and other stories Penguin

    1986 London Alexander, Paul Salinger a biography Renaissance Books 1999Los Angeles Belcher, William F. J.D.Salinger and the Critics Wadsworth 1964 Belmont & Lee, James W. Bloom, Harold Modern Critical Views J.D. Salinger Chelsea House 1987

    New York French, Warren J.D Salinger Twayne Publisher 1963 New York

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    Grunwald, Henry Anatole Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait Harper 1962 New York Gwynn, Frederick L. The Fiction of J.D. Salinger Pittsburgh Press 1979 USA & Blotner, Joseph L. Hamilton, Kenneth J.D. Salinger: A Critical Essay Grand Rapids 1967 Hamilton, Ian In Search of J.D. Salinger Random House 1988 New York Kotzen, Kip With Love and Squalor Broadway 2001 NewYork & Beller, Thomas Lundquist, James J.D.Salinger Ungar 1980 New York Marsden, Malcolm M If You Really Want to Know: A Catcher Casebook Scott, Foresman Chicago 1963 Miller, James J.D. Salinger University of Minnesota Press 1965 Minneapolis Simonson, Harold P Salingers Catcher in the Rye Clamor vs. Criticism & Philip E. Hager D.C. Heath Boston 1963 Sublette, Jack R. J.D. Salinger: An Annotated Bibliography Garland 1984 New York Wenke, John J.D. Salinger A Study of the Short Fiction Twayne Publisher 1991 Boston Zen Buddhism: Miller, F.Max Wisdom of the Buddha The Unabridged Dhammapada Dover

    2000 New York Roth, Martin & Zen Guide Weatherhill 1985 New York

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    Stevens, John Suzuki, D.T. An introduction to Zen Buddhism Rider 1992 London Suzuki, D.T. Zen Buddhism Aryan 1996 New Delhi