raise high the roof beams, carpenters & seymour: an introduction – j.d. salinger

Rating: 4.5/5

As you can probably tell, I really like Salinger.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is about our favorite narrator, Buddy Glass, recollecting Seymour’s wedding. When Seymour doesn’t show up for the wedding, Buddy finds himself in the company of the Matron of Honor, Mrs. Silsburn, and an half-deaf elderly man. Most of the story consists of dialogue, except for one of the last scenes, where Buddy reads Seymour’s personal diary.

This strange title of this story comes from a note BooBoo left on the mirror for Seymour, originally from the poet Sappho.

Raise high the roof beam, Carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man.

– Sappho

Seymour – An Introduction is a seemingly disjointed and random recollection of various aspects of Seymour, told again, by Buddy Glass. It focuses on long drawn-out explanations of Eastern poetry and descriptions of every detail of Seymour’s facial features . And when Buddy finally writes an anecdote about Seymour and him as children, he hastily finishes the story.

In Carpenters, even though it is about Seymour’s wedding, the groom never actually makes an appearance. I’ve found this prevalent in most of Salinger’s stories about the Glass children. Seymour, who committed suicide on vacation with his wife, never physically appears (except for Bananafish), but his ghost is always hovering over the rest of the Glass family, constantly influencing their lives. In Zooey, it is Seymour’s Fat Lady that finally helps Franny’s crisis.

When Buddy flips through Seymour’s diary, we are given some clues on Seymour himself. At the end of one of his entries, Seymour writes “I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.” During a drink with his fiance, Seymour tells her R. H. Blyth’s definition of sentimentality: “that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it”. Seymour comments on how happy he is with her, and laments “if only she could be happier with me”.

There is a definite tension between The Matron of Honor and Buddy on the subject of Seymour. From this and other stories, Seymour is portrayed to us as a sort of saintly figure, misunderstood by the rest of the world. The question to me really is whether this is true, and whether or not Seymour is just a fraud after all. I am more disposed to saying no, but then again, I’m too sentimentally attached to the Glass Children to say anything else.

Seymour – An Introduction was hard to get through. Buddy seems unable to describe Seymour without dwelling too long on irrelevant factors, dedicating pages on his nose, his ears, his eyes. We get a sense of why Buddy is unable to articulate his feelings through an anecdote he eventually chooses to share: Nine-year-old Buddy Glass believed that he was the Fastest Boy Runner in the World and was sprinting down the streets when Seymour grabbed him and forced him to a stop. Immediately after this one story that gives life to Seymour, Buddy writes “I’m finished with this. Or, rather, it’s finished with me.” His seeming inability to stop running in a sense sheds light on why he focuses only on the physical and logical aspects of Seymour. It is a beautiful moment, surmountable to the image of Holden as the Catcher of the Rye, but Buddy is too scared of this territory to continue.

Right after Buddy gives his anecdote, he gives us one last piece of Seymour’s wisdom:

Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he never wrong?

– Seymour- An Introduction

The last line in Seymour (“Just go to bed now. Quickly. Quickly and slowly”) is reminiscent of that in Zooey, where Franny “lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling”, finally “[falling] into a deep, dreamless sleep.”

The idea of sleep is very important in Buddhism, and it usually takes place after one has achieved enlightenment. Let us hope then, that Buddy has finally let Seymour run past him, and fallen into a dreamless sleep.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s