- “A Narrator, But One With Extremely Pressing Personal Needs”: Narrative Drive and Affective Crisis in Salinger’s “Seymour; An Introduction”
J. D. Salinger’s story “Seymour; An Introduction” (1959) purports to be an “Introduction” to the work of a man named Seymour Glass, written by his fictional brother Buddy. It is part of a series of fictional works published by Salinger over seventeen years, portraying aspects of the life of the Glass family. The first, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948), is a third-person narrative of a young Seymour Glass who, on vacation with his wife in Florida, is portrayed having an intimate interaction with a four-year-old girl named Sybil at the beach, and then going up to his hotel room to kill himself while his wife sleeps on the bed next to his. The five other stories—“Franny” (1955), “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” (1955), “Zooey” (1957), “Seymour; An Introduction” (1959), and “Hapworth 16, 1924” (1965)—refer, more or less directly, to Seymour or his suicide. The Glass stories, as they are often called, form what Eberhard Alsen calls a “composite” novel (65), which in his reading deals to varying degrees with the influence of Seymour’s suicide on his family: his childlike vaudeville-performer parents, his variably admiring six younger siblings, and, sometimes, his apparently mismatched wife. But a reading that places Seymour at the center of the Glass cycle is ultimately complicated by another character who, while missing in the first two stories, emerges as a narrator in the third, and in the final three not only refers to himself as the one writing [End Page 193] or publishing the texts, but also takes credit for writing the first two. This character is the second-oldest sibling, Buddy Glass.
The fictional Buddy Glass has long been considered a stand-in for Salinger (Weber 214; Grishakova 247). This is due not only to Salinger’s referring to Buddy as his “alter ego and collaborator” on the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey (1961), but also to Buddy’s taking credit in “Seymour; An Introduction” for publishing works sharing characteristics with Salinger’s fiction: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and “Teddy” (1953) (“Seymour” 111–12, 176). “Seymour,” as a story, stands out within the Glass series because in it Buddy places more attention than he does in any other story on his own role as a writer. “Raise High,” the first Glass story in which Buddy appears as a narrator, is written from the first-person perspective, but its self-referentiality is limited to noting that he is writing in 1955, seven years after his brother’s suicide, without directly problematizing the role of narration. “Zooey,” on the other hand, opens with what the narrator calls an “author’s formal introduction” (47) in which Buddy explores the form, genre, and style of his text: calling it less a “short story” than a “prose home movie,” insisting that it is not a “mystical story” but a “love story” (49), pointing out that the “plot” was reconstructed through a “collaborative effort” that involved other family members, and noting that a letter reproduced in the story was sent to Zooey by his “eldest living brother, Buddy Glass” (50) and so “bears . . . resemblance to the style . . . of this narrator”—all before declaring that the story will “leave this Buddy Glass,” the first-person narrator who just provided a formal author’s introduction, “in the third person from here on in” (50). It is also worth noting that the progression described here—in which Buddy first appears as a narrator in “Raise High” and then later self-referentially analyzes the role of the narrator in the introductory note of “Zooey”—is disjointed in the book publication of these stories, with “Zooey” published as a companion piece to “Franny,” in which Buddy’s name does not appear, and “Raise High” as a companion piece to “Seymour,” where the kinds of self-referential remarks found in “Zooey” extend over the bulk of the text.
From the perspective of form, there appears to be a trajectory in these stories, wherein a narrator who in...