Nine Stories

Nine Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss the use of death as motif and metaphor in Nine Stories.

    A: The key stories to look at here are obviously “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Teddy,” but death figures prominently, albeit indirectly, in other tales: “Uncle Wiggily,” “The Laughing Man,” “For Esme – with Love and Squalor,” and “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

  2. 2

    Compare and contrast the references to and use of World War II in Nine Stories to Virginia Woolf’s allusions to World War I in Mrs. Dalloway.

    A: In both works, the war in question has recently ended and is still exerting an effect on everyday, civilian society. Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs. Dalloway and Seymour Glass in Nine Stories are both shell-shocked war vets, set adrift in peacetime society and unable to cope with their surroundings. Both kill themselves. War also creeps into conversation, turns up in passing asides; even the prose itself seems to present a vision of a society both in mourning (for the dead) and jubilation (for victory). Memory plays a big role in both works as well.

  3. 3

    Pick one of the following stories in Nine Stories and analyze it: “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” “Just Before the War with the Eskimos,” “Down at the Dinghy,” “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes.”

    A: These are the shortest of the stories in Nine Stories. They can be described as vignettes or single scenes, told by an omniscient narrator with limited awareness, recounted in more or less real-time, with occasional ellipses.

  4. 4

    What happens at the end of “Teddy”?

    A: This question is not as simple as it might at first seem, because Salinger deliberately withholds key details from the reader. We cannot be certain that Teddy dies, or that his sister pushes him into the pool. That we jump to that conclusion, however, means we have implicitly accepted Teddy as a genius-savant-seer, one who can correctly see his own demise before it occurs.

  5. 5

    Discuss the depiction of love in Nine Stories.

    A: While Nine Stories is full of examples of romantic love, the kind of love that seems to most interest Salinger is of a different variety: the love between Esme and X; the love between Lionel and his mother; the love between the nineteen year-old art instructor and his star pupil, Sister Irna.

  6. 6

    “Nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon it will die.” Discuss.

    A: The quote is a Japanese poem recited by Teddy. He seems to be alluding to his own impending death, but the poem is also a commentary on the fragility of human life in general – a concept particularly important to Salinger, especially given his frequent allusions to World War II in Nine Stories.

  7. 7

    Compare the narrator of “The Laughing Man” to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

    A: Both Holden and the narrator of “The Laughing Man” follow the Huckleberry Finn model of limited awareness. Their age stands in the way of a full understanding of their world – and yet, youth also allows them to see things more clearly in many ways than their older counterparts.

  8. 8

    Analyze the closing paragraph of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” Consider tone, syntax, diction, rhythm.

    A: The key thing to consider in this essay is that Salinger ends his story, quite literally, with a bang. This is to say, he leaves his readers with a sentence of shocking violence, refusing to linger on the moment or comment on it (a move that would arguably dull its impact). It is also worth comparing this passage, in its clarity, to the end of “Teddy.”

  9. 9

    Discuss the role of children in Nine Stories – children as character, children as metaphor.

    A: Children appear in almost all of the entries in Nine Stories and they often represent a fuzzy-bordered coexistence of ironically limited awareness and extraordinary perceptiveness.

  10. 10

    What does Salinger seem to be saying about American society in Nine Stories?

    A: There are many potential answers to this question. One could argue Salinger decries the materialism of 50’s America; one could argue he sees his society as comprised of fundamentally good people, people who might stumble but who invariably mean well; one could argue he uses his society as fodder for satire a la Mark Twain; one could argue he sees America as a nation crawling out of the wreckage of World War II without even realizing it is doing so (unlike Europe, where that wreckage was not just emotional and psychological but physical).