the glass children: it’s a wise child (2/10)

Part two of my mini character-study series.

In this blog, I’ll try to examine the wisdom of the seven Glass children from the late author J.D. Salinger’s various works. From eldest to youngest, they are: Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, Walt, Walker, Zooey, and Franny.

The Glass Children are in a word, gifted. All of them suffer from seeing a little bit too much under the surface (See-more Glass), and tries to reconcile their “enlightenment” with the rest of the world.

Seymour, while on vacation with his wife, Muriel, eventually puts a bullet through his brain. Franny has an existential crisis in the middle of the school year, where she tells her boyfriend that she wishes “to meet somebody she could respect”, and that everyone is concerned with their own ego. And even though we don’t see the other Glass children deal with this spiritual difference between themselves and the rest of the world, we can guess that they’ve all probably asked themselves the question of what to do with the Other.

All seven of the Glass children have been on the talk show, It’s a Wise Child!, under pseudonyms, and have thus grown accustomed to the knowledge that they are different from everyone else.

The Glass family are also very focused on their spirituality and religion: Franny finds solace in the Jesus Prayer; in a letter Buddy wrote to Zooey, he explains that Seymour and he tried to raise Franny and Zooey on no-knowledge; in Buddy’s story, the protagonist Teddy is a spiritually advanced child who predicts his own death. I’m not terrifically well-versed in either Eastern or Western religion, but an idea that perpetuated throughout the Glass stories was one of detachment and empathy. Buddy writes something along the lines of “children don’t belong to their parents; they belong to God.”

This idea of detachment, at first glance, seemingly opposes sentimentality, but I think the Glass children, especially Seymour, had arguably the largest hearts after they’ve achieved satori (enlightenment). In an entry for a personal diary, Seymour writes “I suspect people of plotting to make me happy”, and in Carpenters, Buddy remembers a story when Seymour threw a rock at a girl, simply because she looked so beautiful. Even Zooey’s harsh words toward both his mother and Franny is reconciled when he pretends to be Buddy to check up on her, presenting her with “The Fat Lady” to finally help her get out of her existential crisis.

The idea of the Fat Lady, as Seymour/Zooey explains, is that one should picture an old lady, maybe with cancer, somewhere in the world, and that one should metaphorically shine one’s shoes for this Fat Lady. Zooey further goes on to explain that the Fat Lady is Christ himself, which circles back to the idea that one should always be in service for God, because one only belong to God.

The idea of the Fat Lady is a beautiful one, one that for me, ties together the idea of detachment and empathy, one that solves the question of one’s place in the world, no matter who this person is. Everyone should be equal before God. Everyone is the Fat Lady and Everything is God (no matter what or who this God is).

I am perhaps a little bit guilty of the crime that Salinger accuses poets of, of being too sentimentally attached to things, and in this case, fictional people. The Glass children are probably the most interesting and asshole-y and lonely and strangely lovable characters I’ve ever read, but if there’s one thing that they’ve taught me, it’s that I’m not that different at all.

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