Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Salinger's Teddy

Today In Literature takes a look at the short stories of J. D. Salinger today. Included is a great passage from "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" and discussion of "Teddy," a story that I believe is completely misinterpreted most of the time, still. I believe this so strongly that in 1976 I wrote a story called "Teddy At The Pool" in which I clarify the ending to Salinger's story in the only way that makes sense to me.

The question is: what happens at the end of Salinger's story? One critic summarizes the standard interpretation this way: "In another well-known story in the collection called “Teddy,” a jealous sister pushes a child prodigy into an empty swimming pool. Here the little genius has anticipated and even welcomes his own death." (Maxwell Geismar, “The Wise Child and the New Yorker School of Fiction”).

My interpretation is completely opposite from this! I believe in the ending of Salinger's story, Teddy pushes his sister into a full swimming pool (!) and no one dies.

Wow. Talk about a difference. Why do I believe I'm right and all these literary critics are wrong? Because they took Salinger's bait (he's a Zen clown, after all). All the evidence is in the story, as it must be.

Here's the first question: is the swimming pool full or empty? What we know from the story is this: the story occurs not on the usual day for draining and cleaning the pool. That's clear enough. Then how does it suddenly become empty? Only because Teddy, in telling a story, says, in effect, Let's say this was the day they cleaned the pool and it was empty. He needs an empty pool to make his point. But it is clear it is not the cleaning day. There simply is no justification for believing the pool is empty unless you believe that just because Teddy, in telling a story, says Let's pretend it's the cleaning day, it suddenly becomes the cleaning day in fact. This is ridiculous. The pool is full. There is no rational alternative.

So if the pool is full, what happens? We know we hear a girl scream. We know it is Teddy's sister who screams. Moreover, Salinger gives us the clear definitive image: the sound of her voice is reverberating between tiled walls. Where are tiled walls? Above the water level of a swimming pool. In other words, her head is within this space, which is to say, just above the water level. We know she can't swim. She herself is in the water, screaming her bloody head off.

How did she get there? Teddy pushed her. Why? Because he has emotions after all. He spends a lot of time arguing about the inappropriateness of putting emotions into things that don't have them, which is what happens in a lot of poetry, and Teddy tries to put himself above all that. But guess what? Despite his genius, he's an emotional being after all, he loses it, gets tired of his snotty sister, and in a spontaneous moment of emotion, pushes her into the full pool, full because it's not the cleaning day.

This is what the story is about. The evidence in the story can have it no other way. Salinger, the Zen clown, the superb craftsman, knows that a simplistic view will jump at Teddy's explanation (which makes for a boring story, the protagonist telling us the ending ahead of time!), he's cynical enough to suspect, I think, many will do just this -- but his story has a rich complexity and a complete twist at the end, all perfectly and clearly set up for the careful reader. It's a brilliant and extraordinary story. The standard critical reading, in contrast, turns it into a predictable, didactic, boring lesson in eastern philosophy. No way. This is great stuff, and Salinger knows exactly what he is doing. He knows, like any good storyteller knows, that the old cliche is true, that actions speak louder than words. What Teddy says is one thing but what he does is another.

Here's how I make this argument in a more dramatic way, in Teddy At The Pool.


LJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LJ said...

That's a VERY good analysis!! Exactly!! Like Salinger's other stories, this story is about a young, innocent child trying to escape from a corrupt adult world. Teddy feels unloved, his father is vulgar and harshly materialistic; his mother allows her six daughter to wander on a cruise ship alone... Teddy puts on the mystic disguise not only to receive love and attention from the Philophical Community, but to cut himself off from the materialistic, ego driven adult world. Thank you for clarifying the ending!!!

Lydia said...

Was looking at the rest of your site... I LOVE it!

Daniel said...

It's a very interesting view, but it's not how I read the text.

The ending of the story goes, "He was little more than halfway down the staircase when he heard an all-piercing, sustained scream--clearly coming from a small, female child. It was highly acoustical, as though it were reverberating within four tiled walls."

Firstly, why does Salinger call the scream "sustained"? There is no splashing sound reported, so is she falling for a sustained period of time, or swimming well enough that she can scream as she does it?

Secondly, why does he call the sound "highly acoustical"? I interpreted that to mean there was no water in the pool, making noise travel easily around the room.

I feel that trying to interpret the author's intention is always murky business, but I do think that here, the description better fits a small female child standing on the edge of the pool, screaming at something.

Charles Deemer said...

But the first question must be, Is the pool empty or full? The only evidence we have in the story is Teddy's saying this is NOT the regular cleaning day -- but let's pretend that it is. In other words, THE POOL IS FULL. So an interpretation must begin with this fact.

Daniel said...

I'm still confused. In my edition of the story, Teddy says,

""It's so silly," Teddy said again. "For example, I have a swimming lesson in about five minutes. I could go downstairs to the pool, and there might not be any water in it. This might be the day they change the water or something. What might happen, though, I might walk up to the edge of it, just to have a look at the bottom, for instance, and my sister might come up and sort of push me in. I could fracture my skull and die instantaneously." Teddy looked at Nicholson. "That could happen," he said. "My sister's only six, and she hasn't been a human being for very many lives, and she doesn't like me very much. That could happen, all right..."

You've probably answered this question many times before, but how does this show that it definitely is not the day they clean the pool?

Charles Deemer said...

He says he has a swimming lesson in about five minutes. He would not be scheduled for a swimming lesson in an empty pool. He doesn't qualify the statement, he says it as fact. We have no reason to believe it isn't fact. If he has a scheduled lesson, there has to be water in the pool.

In the standard reading of the story, it's a predictable, didactic piece of amateur writing. However, with water in the pool, the complexities of the story open up and its true brilliance is revealed. I think Salinger is smarter than the standard reading and I see no evidence in the story whatever that the pool is empty. Whatever an interpretation is, it must include a full swimming pool.

Jacob said...

late, but google brought me here.

i have to take the standard critic's point of view here as well--the reverberating of four tiled walls sound simply cannot come from a full pool. I don't know if you have tried screaming with an "all-piercing" while actually in a pool (or slightly above it), but it would not produce an acoustical (in this case, sound-absorbing or dampening) scream as described. The key word here is also -within- four tiled walls--a full pool would produce a fraction of a wall, nothing close to describe a sound within it. A Full Pool just does not make sense given the syntax of the final sentence: He would not have chosen "wall" or "within" at all. If you were to describe the sound of a scream at the position you're suggesting booper is--would "within four tiled walls" really be at all a good description?

The idea isn't that Teddy has the power to make the Pool empty, but that (as I'm sure you know) predicted his own death and let it slip. It's also why he's so adamant to be present at the time. Swimming Lessons are scheduled usually on a daily set-schedule basis, and could easily be excused on such an occasion.

I also balk at the suggestion that such an ending makes this at all a piece of amateur writing.

Jacob said...

Also, I do not mean to come across as purely antagonistic--I held the same exactly opinion for the same exact reasons the first three years after reading the story and the criticism for it (although I kept changing my mind on whether the pool was full or not). But for the reasons I just described (in my absolute best 2am prose), I can't seem to get around anything but the commonly held opinion. At the very least, saying both viewpoints have valid arguments can be agreed upon, I believe (and maybe, hopefully, it not being such an amateur piece with my view as well =))

Also pleased that, after an investigation to the blog itself to find it by a hyperdrama guru, after spending most of my last year studying under Kate Hayles.

Charles Deemer said...

Jacob, in our swimming pool in LA when I was a kid, and in swimming pools in general, the TILE starts around the water line. Most of the "walls" of a swimming pool are NOT tile. To be within tiled walls in a pool, then, your face must be at the water line ... that is, struggling to stay afloat. In other words, I still think there's water in the pool.

If the pool were empty and she were screaming, tiled walls would make no sense, the perspective is wrong. "Within" suggests a vertical level only possible at the water line.

Jacob said...

That may be where the difference in imagery in ours heads (and ambiguity in general) with the passage lies--whenever I think of 'high end' pools (such as ones on a cruise ship), I think of fancy black-tile all around the pool instead of concrete.

That's the best example I can come up with without digging through my DVDs to find something closer to my head.

All of this does make me want to pick up 9S all over again.


Anonymous said...

I just want to point out one important quote that wasn't utilized while discussing this piece. On page 182 of Nine Stories Teddy writes in his journal "It will either happen today or February 14, 1958 when I am sixteen. It is ridiculous to mention even." I could be wrong but I believe he is writing about the day of his death and it would further prove the argument that Booper did push him into the pool and he did die today.

Dnalbandian_show said...

he fucking suisides himself!! Its why he puts down the same day that life was a gifthorse,on his oppinion and that it would either happen today or on February 14 when he's sixteen.And he talks about feelings cuz he has (OF COURSE HE FUCKING DOES) and he feels alone and rejected from the life of the adults.His sister doesn't push him,je jumps alone and he tells her NOT TO BE LATE cuz he wants his sister to see him dying just before her eyes to make feel her and his parents guilty about himself feeling rejected.ZThe same reason for the famous Haiku he creates ALONG THIS ROAD GOES NO ONE,THIS AUTUMN EVE.There are even some more hints for making me feeling quite shure that the pool is empty and je jups there in order to commit suiside

Anonymous said...

It is my belief that Teddy commits suicide. He does not "predict" his death, rather, he is foreshadowing taking his own life.

Having Booper thrown into a full pool really doesn't have the same impact. I respect this view however.

Bryan said...

Just found your blog via Google, thank you for this discussion! I've gotta throw in two cents and say I agree with Dnalbandian, except that we have no proof that Teddy has died, rather that something has happened to cause a scream. So, maybe he attempted suicide; we've no way to know if anyone actually died. If we look at Teddy's diary entries, he made several goals for 10/27 and completed them all on 10/28, without making any further plans. This to me hints at someone who is preparing for an end, especially considering how he made sure to complete all his letters. And, if Teddy did in fact die by falling in the pool with his sister present, he would be fulfilling his prophecy in a way in that a suspicion of blame would always be laid on his sister. I could go on and on, any responses to this? Thanks.

D.P EHT said...

I think that teddy pushes his own sister, but he also recites poems that may cause the story to change, if you know what they mean....
So Four tiled wall means that you are like squished and the voice echos and keeps going for a while , like underwater, if you go underwater and scream , the voice just reverberates and keeps repeating it self.

kay said...

i just read this and was uncertain on the ending - did a quick google and this came up

i haven't read all of the post so forgive me if i'm repeating any points but

my first impression was that teddy had indeed been pushed by his sister into the pool, as he "predicted" a few pages before in his conversation with nicholson and in his diary - "it will either happen today or february 14th" (it being his death, we realise) - we know that he seems to have the power of predicting death also from his conversation with nicholson.

his sister is screaming at the shock of what she's done; her brother's fractured skull against the empty swimming pool (which is alluded to in one of Teddy's diary entries, with the man getting hit by the coconut and his head cracking in two), it is not her who has been pushed by teddy - hence the 'sustained' scream - were she dead the scream would be perhaps sharp and abrupt.

the fact that her scream in echoed in the tiled walls suggests that yes, the pool was empty as teddy predicted. in my opinion there is no way the pool could have been full - why allude to the idea that the pool might be empty before otherwise? why end with the line "as though it were reverberating within four tiled walls"? it's supposed to make us feel nauseous with the truth and it would lose it poignancy if the pool was full - in fact i think it would lose it's meaning

the sort of detached writing style in which it is written, or his death is described is also consistent with teddy's philosophy of "not adding emotions where they are unnecessary"

the idea that teddy is also talking about death, how to react to death, talking about the orange peel and existence, the Japanese poems ("nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon he will die") is all building up to the climax that is teddy's death, and undeniably teddy's death and not his sister's

alternatively, it has here been discussed that teddy commits suicide.

although this is not what i first thought, i think it's also a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

perhaps teddy is not really a spiritual or mystic prodigy after all and he doesn't "predict" his death but rather simply has control over when it happens (as we all do). the reason he summons his sister is because he perhaps wants her to view his death and unhappiness. he could well be just be a tragic and frightened 10 year-old which still attaches the same poignancy to the ending, if not more

of course teddy still isn't quite a "normal child" - he talks with intelligence beyond his years and he must've somehow known that the pool would be empty, and with this intelligence he bears a despondent outlook on life - he is fed up. (his family life is perhaps not ideal either - his father is very irritable and his mother seems to taunt him, both of them do not seem to understand him)

admittedly whilst reading this story i felt like it would end in suicide (or at least tragedy) as i remembered "a perfect day for bananafish" upon reading it. there are parallels that can be drawn between teddy and seymour - the sort of misunderstood suicidal, still poised and calm though in the face of death, etc. the way that nine stories opens with bananafish and ends with teddy is interesting - two similar themes to open and close.

i'm not sure whether he was pushed by his sister or he committed suicide - now actually i'm more attracted to the idea of the latter; i think there's a more of sense of depth of meaning and character with the "suicide" idea, you have to sort of scratch the surface, whereas the "pushed-by-sister" idea is more sort of blatant. either way im sure salinger wanted us to make the decision for ourselves and take what knowledge we could from "teddy" - ideas about spiruality, mortality and human existence

teapotshappen said...

She pushed him, he died, he knew he might die that day.

I do have to say that I love that your argument against this interpretation is based on:

"This is ridiculous. The pool is full. There is no rational alternative."

BEcause this is exactly the lesson Teddy was trying - and failing - to give you!

Teddy responds: "You're just being logical. You're just giving me a regular, intelligent answer. I was trying to help you. You asked me how I get out of the finite dimensions ... I certainly don't use logic when I do it. Logic's the first thing you have to get rid of."

So throw that apple up, Charles!

teapotshappen said...

"Nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon it will die,' " Teddy said suddenly. "'Along this road goes no one, this autumn eve."

brice said...

Just think about Teddy's constant complaints about the "apple-eaters" who inhabit the world. The original analysis and every post besides (to an extent) the first by "teapotshappen" try to defend a definite idea of exactly what happened, using logical reasoning to arrive at a specific conclusion.

Teddy's message was that we need to stop applying logic to every situation. There are some things we just don't know. Yes, Teddy getting pushed into an empty pool by his sister is interesting, and yes, Teddy pushing his sister into a full pool is interesting as well. But everyone seems to forget that the source of the scream is never specified. For all we know, some other girl may have screamed for some unrelated reason.

The fact that particular outcomes are satisfying or fit with the themes is irrelevant. The ending tempts us to stick our emotions (a search for a satisfying explanation) into something that has no emotions - an arbitrary scream. If we've learned anything from Teddy, we'll just have to live with our ignorance.

That being said, I do think Salinger intentionally left us with plenty of reason to ponder whether the sister did push him into an empty pool (at this point I don't buy anything else), but I think that the point was that it doesn't matter because we can't really know. The confusion is its own ending.

Anand Sundaram said...

You may find this laughable, but I have to say it. Having recently read Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics, I suggest that as far as we are concerned, Teddy committed suicide, Teddy is alive, Teddy pushed his sister into a full pool, Teddy pushed his sister into a bottomless pool, and Teddy's sister pushed him into the pool, and so on and so forth. If you don't understand what I'm saying, read about SCHRODINGER'S CAT. It's a quantum physics phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the Zen way of thinking.

Anand Sundaram said...

It seems that most of us agree that Teddy had emotions, even if we don't agree (and probably shouldn't) about the ending. Here's another interesting take that argues that Teddy does have emotions.;col1

Charles Deemer said...

Anand, the alternative endings happen in alternative universes. We are dealing with one particular ending in one particular of the many parallel possibilities. So you are begging the question.

Charles Deemer said...

Let me add again that as a great fan of Salinger, I think he is far too great an artist to write a story as dramatically predictable as Teddy would be if the "standard" interpretation is true. It's too pat and easy. Moreover, the ZEN interpretation really is mine. Salinger is like a Zen clown (see my play "The Death of Teng Yin-feng" or my Swami Kree in "Christmas at the Juniper Tavern"), having fun and setting up his "rational" audience. Teddy is bait, folks, not a boring preacher of eastern wisdom. The wisdom is the magician's wisdom, and Salinger is the magician.

Anonymous said...

...what about the E-deck D-Deck confusion...?

Frank Marcopolos said...

I love the argument here, and the idea that confusion was Salinger's intention. Had never considered that before.

My only thought about Charles's opinion is that just because Teddy thought his lesson was at 10:30, doesn't mean it was. It's plausible that he had the time wrong ... maybe it was really for 10:45 or 11, and the pool would have been re-filled by that time. Not that that disqualifies your argument, but it's just a thought that popped into my head after reading the post and all the comments.

Scott Metz said...

and then there is how this story, and Teddy as a character, relate to Nine Stories' first story in the collection, A Perfect Day for Bananafish—a story about Seymour Glass' suicide. it seems quite purposeful—no?—that these two are the bookends.

if Teddy does allow himself to die on that day, then how does the story relate to Bananafish and Seymour's decision?

if Teddy decides to put off his death till the later date, then how, also, does it relate to the first Seymour?

saskatoon said...

As this is one of my favorite short stories, I'm intrigued by this argument. But I have to say, having read through the various takes by the various commentators on this board, I think that most folks - including the original blogger - are vastly over-analyzing the ending. To the point, there is absolutely nothing in the story itself which so much as suggests that Teddy pushes his sister into a full pool.

To my mind, the "it will either happen today" excerpt, the haikus, the example Teddy gives of his sister pushing him into an empty pool... these are all retroactively clear cut clues for an ending which is not so ambiguous as this blogger would have us think. And believe me, I love to find a hidden meaning or the "what-really-happened" version of a story as much as the next literary fellow! But I have no desire to delude myself or others in the process.

As Teddy says, this "might be the day they change the water or something." Just because it's NOT the regular cleaning day doesn't rule out the possibility of this happening. And the reverberation of a female child's scream occurring within four tiled walls can easily mean that she is either screaming towards Teddy, dead at the bottom of the empty pool, or perhaps climbed into the empty pool after him and is now screaming. These are far more likely possibilities, given all the evidence we have.

Now, this blogger's evidence to the contrary supposedly hinges on the pool being full:

"The only evidence we have in the story is Teddy's saying this is NOT the regular cleaning day -- but let's pretend that it is. In other words, THE POOL IS FULL. "

I'm sorry, but that's an utterly logic-free statement, along the lines of: If A then B, and if B then maybe (let's pretend) C. Therefore if A, then C. A hypothetical pool cleaning day means the pool is full? Balderdash!


"He says he has a swimming lesson in about five minutes. He would not be scheduled for a swimming lesson in an empty pool. He doesn't qualify the statement, he says it as fact. We have no reason to believe it isn't fact. If he has a scheduled lesson, there has to be water in the pool."

My daughter had - true story! - a swimming lesson scheduled a few weeks ago, and when she and my wife took her to the pool, they discovered it was cancelled due to the pool being drained for a cleaning (Another kid had had an "accident" in the pool!). The scheduled lesson does NOT definitively mean water is in the pool; Teddy's anecdote, in fact, serves to counter this in no uncertain terms.

"In the standard reading of the story, it's a predictable, didactic piece of amateur writing. However, with water in the pool, the complexities of the story open up and its true brilliance is revealed. I think Salinger is smarter than the standard reading and I see no evidence in the story whatever that the pool is empty. Whatever an interpretation is, it must include a full swimming pool."

"It MUST" solely because the blogger doesn't (or doesn't care to) see the evidence or because he has labelled the conventional interpretation as a predictable, didactic piece of amateurish writing"? This is lit crit, not lit crit character assassination!

Without a tangible, concrete argument to back up the claim that the pool is full and/or Teddy pushes his sister into the pool, I'm wholly unmoved and remain unconvinced. The reading as most would have it is hardly as amateurish as the apparent simplicity of the structure and descriptions might have one think. To that point, let's examine and discuss it, but let's not extrapolate phantom meanings solely for the sake of the discussion or - worse - to purport understanding Salinger better than Salinger himself!

Anonymous said...

This is the single worst alternative interpretation of a text I have ever read in my entire life. It is simply dishonest. You lie repeatedly. You claim the story takes place on a day when the pool is not supposed to be cleaned, ie is full of water. There is literally no textual evidence to support this claim. You claim Teddy's sister is in the water crying with fear, because she can't swim. There is no textual evidence whatsoever to suggest the girl can't swim. Your point about the 'reverberating off four tiled walls' somehow ruling out her standing outside an empty pool, while ruling in her being in the water with just her head above water, makes no sense whatsoever.

You have willfully misinterpreted and misrepresented the story. I didn't write it and can't give a definitive answer about what occurs and what it means. What I CAN say, though, is that there is ample textual evidence to suggest that Teddy's seemingly offhand remark to the grad student about his sister pushing him into the empty pool and killing him, was not offhand, but was a casual reference to an event he had foreseen would occur. I don't see any reason at all to read the story in any way other than that the little girl kills him at the end in just that way. You have to bend over backwards to read the story any other way.

Your interpretation crosses the line between reasonable analysis of a text and irresponsible, dishonest, willful misrepresentation of a text. You perhaps should re-write the tale to suit you, rather than try to mangle the meaning of the real thing.

Charles Deemer said...

The evidence for there being water in the pool is that they have a swimming lesson scheduled. This is also evidence for it NOT being the day they clean the pool, and why Teddy in his story says, Let's pretend it is the day. The evidence suggests a full pool, not an empty one, and so analyses must account for this.

The only way a scream reverberates within tiled walls is if the source of the scream is thus located, and the only tiles in a swimming pool are above the water line. Thus the girl's head must be there, which puts her in a full pool. If she's still taking lessons, she's not yet a good swimmer and it's not a leap to assume her fear.

Disagree but be nice.

Jim said...

I am pretty positive that Teddy died at the end. I don't know if he committed suicide or his sister pushed him in. And I don't think we're supposed to be able to figure out what happened. It's like the thing with the floating orange peels, it was the last thing he said to his parents before he died: After I go out this door, I may only exist in the minds of all my acquaintances....I may be an orange peel. It's like a tree falling in the woods when no one is around.

I think the whole point of the story is not knowing what happens when you die.

Frank Marcopolos said...

Charles, Here's some interesting evidence for the theory that Teddy is dead.

This webpage is about the MS Kungsholm, a boat where JD Salinger spent time as "cruise director" according to the site:

Salinger mentions the Kungsholm, in fact, in his story, "A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist At All":

"The only sound in the night came from the Havana harbor water slucking gently against the sides of the ship. Through the moon mist the Kungsholm could be seen, anchored sleepy and rich, just a few hundred feet aft. Farther shoreward a few small boats corked about."

So, since we know many of Salinger's settings come directly from his experiences, it's a pretty safe bet that the cruiseliner in "Teddy" would be at least something like the Kungsholm. If we accept that as the case, then we should examine the pool.

If you look toward the bottom of that page, there's a picture of the pool itself. As you can see in the picture, all 4 walls of the pool are tiled all the way to the bottom (not just the top part), as is the bottom itself. If it were empty, and Booper were on the ladder, or standing on the floor, the "highly accoustical" sound now makes complete sense.

Also, to my mind I don't think the fact that they have a lesson means it CAN'T be the day the water is changed. I don't find it hard to believe that the person who schedules the lessons doesn't coordinate with the person who schedules the water-changings.

Charles Deemer said...

If Salinger wanted the pool to be empty, I don't think he'd have made such a big deal of the lessons. He'd just have it be the day the pool is cleaned. Whatever the interpretation, I think the pool has to be full.

Charles Deemer said...

Also, I give credit to Salinger as a literary artist. If the standard interpretation is right, Teddy is dead, then the story is didactic, a dull predictable piece of Eastern propaganda. If, however, my interpretation is right, the story is a richly complex story about human emotions. Moreover, it puts Salinger in one of my favorite roles, the role of the Zen clown who plays with his audience and tries to trap them (successfully in this case) into wrong conclusions. This strategy is very much more a legitimate "Eastern tradition" than the propaganda most "Western minds" make of the story!

Frank Marcopolos said...

As to your first point, he has to get Teddy to the pool somehow, and having a lesson with Booper allows for them both to be there.

As to your second point, that is a very interesting take which I'll definitely consider. Though I would say that while the story leans toward being didactic if you take the "Teddy's dead" stance, I think Salinger is trying to influence American consumer-culture (with the brand names being so prominent here) through Teddy, didactically or not. [I realize this has less, but nonetheless some, textual evidence, however.] But, here's another way to look at it:

The pool at the end and the ocean at the beginning are structured parallels, both obviously having to do with water, which is ironically (kind of -- not ironically if you think of it in terms of Vedantic reincarnation cycles) usually symbolic of birth/life/renewal. When Teddy is describing the orange peels floating on the water, then sinking below the surface in the beginning of the story, that is a metaphor, clearly, for death. The pool, then, continues this aquatic metaphor with Teddy's actual death. The only place Teddy now lives is in the minds of all the people who knew him. Teddy has to be dead for the story to make any kind of sense, which I argue it does. Salinger is using Teddy as a saint, as a prophet, as a seer, as someone who has come to show us the true way. And like all prophets, he must suffer an unjust and heartrending death in order to make his message all the more impactful.

If he is alive at the end of the story, the entire story falls apart, in my opinion, because it would lose the heartbreak the reader feels from Teddy's death.

Charles Deemer said...

But the Zen clown (Salinger, in my view) would say this is the wrong place to put the emotion! The emotion belongs in the awful realization of what Teddy has done. He is not a mouthpiece, he is a human, which is WHERE EMOTIONS BELONG (as opposed to things in poems and stories).

But to me the bottom line always in the water in the pool. I simply do not believe Salinger is such a lousy craftsman that he would do an empty pool this way. I think he's a genius, and I think this story is among his very best and very consistent with his views and criticism. He's a Zen clown, not an advertising man for Eastern philosophy.

Frank Marcopolos said...

Well, I suppose we'll never convince each other of the opposite view. But still, I love having these kinds of literary discussions, and have enjoyed this one in particular very much. said...

Regarding Teddy
You may have proven that the pool is not empty, but you have not proven that the pool is full.
You have provided an optimistic and subjective interpretation of the ending, not an accurate one.

Joe Kukki said...

Your argument rests on the supposition that because Teddy had a scheduled swimming lesson, thus the pool must be full. However, Teddy makes several references to different causal alternatives in the events which he predicted for the professors he met in Europe. Teddy says he did not predict death, but only designated times and events. He expresses the meaninglessness of the fear of death ("The point is if his dog really died, it would be exactly the same thing. Only, he wouldn't know it. I mean he wouldn't wake up till he died himself"), since the only way to prepare for death is to live with the knowledge of one's own ephemerality ("Nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon it will die")--this is also the core tenement of Buddhism, and the reason why Teddy doesn't mind teaching kids to become ignoramuses (at least they can appreciate a world that is grounded in their own personal experience).

It is clear that the build-up in his argument is finally realized when his prediction turns true, with the unlikelihood of the day of his swimming lesson, to be in fact the day the pool was emptied--a day he had already predicted to be "today or tomorrow". Terry was also speaking hypothetically, an "if" you claim without textual justification to be too absurd to take for granted. Everything else in the story is in place with Salinger's love for koans and sophistry--the sound of the one-hand clapping, the unheard sound of a tree falling--but the answer is always there to those who have an eye for it. Look how much discussion Teddy has already generated for us? God bless Salinger.

Joe Kukki said...

I also find it slightly offensive that you call Salinger a Zen clown or a clown of any sort. Salinger was playful and unpredictable, but he would not write a short story on his perspective of space and time only to end it with an unjustified murder driven from sibling rivalry or contempt for life; both themes are also totally inconsistent with the sequences of events, themes, and motifs constructed for the story.

Charles Deemer said...

The tradition of Zen clowns is in no way pejorative, and this is a term of respect for the very wise, not an insult. Unless you are bound by the Western view of clowns, I suppose. Salinger is one of my favorite writers, and I would never insult him. The tradition of the Zen clown is best elucidated, perhaps, in the book ZEN AND THE COMIC TRADITION. My own play "The Death of Teng Yin-feng" deals with this same tradition.

Why do some people get so angry here?

Joe Kukki said...

I think it's because my comments were contrary to your interpretation that you mistook "slightly offended" as being anger. I am not angered at all, I am slightly offended by the fact that you call Salinger a Zen "clown" (which is a terrible Western name for some of the comic effects of Buddhism; I am a Japanese Buddhist and have never come across Zen clowns in my life--Kyougen, yes, but clown?) and attribute an impossible reading that tarnishes the experience of those who know Salinger only too superficially to form any sort of opinion.

Joe Kukki said...

But this is your blog and you can say whatever you want. Perhaps I took your reading too seriously out of a feeling of defense for Salinger. In this case I apologize. Good day.

Charles Deemer said...

Mr K, we agree on one thing. We both think we are DEFENDING Salinger from misinterpretation! We both are
Salinger fans. Have a good day yourself.

Charles Deemer said...

A summary of 3 alternative endings is here:

I take the last option, of course, but don't like the way the commentary stacks the deck. He asks the right questions at the beginning regarding water in the pool -- and then dismisses them as details to be ignored! Salinger doesn't write details to be ignored.

I think he also misinterprets the last line. The key word is WITHIN ... a voice is not WITHIN tiled walls if it's looking down into an empty pool from above. Most pools have the tile above the water line only ... so the voice, to be within, must be at water level, that is struggling to stay afloat. This is not playful screaming but fearful screaming by a little girl still taking lessons to swim, in my view.

And for me the bottom line is this: options 1 and 2 result in a didactic story and, in fact, eastern propaganda. Option 3 results in a richly textured complex story about human emotions, told in the manner of a tradition of Zen clowns (see ZEN AND THE COMIC SPIRIT) who used contradiction and paradox to communicate. Option 3 actually is more "eastern" than the first 2 options, eastern in its story strategy. I am a great Salinger fan. I think he wrote the best story possible, option 3.

Even the author of these options, who embraces the usual interpretation, admits that the only way it makes sense for the pool to be empty is that Salinger added details that we should ignore. I don't think he would. And I think he chose the word WITHIN very carefully. There is only one place to put a scream-source so it is WITHIN the tiled walls of a swimming pool. Q.E.D.

But clearly this argument will never end. I think I'm right, and you think you're right if you embrace options 1 and 2, and the green grass grows all around, all around ...

Frank Marcopolos said...

One point about "within"... I've always thought Booper was IN the empty pool, not looking down from above it. She pushes him in and then is either on the ladder or the floor of the pool when she realizes the horror of what she has done, and screams.

katrussa said...

i just read the story and was wondering about the end. i completely agree with you. it makes sense, that teddy is a child after all and quarrels with his sister. it seems to be much more like salinger. thank you for the explanation.

Anonymous said...

I just just just finished the story. I feel that the Booper is not in the pool. I think this was an indoor pool if i'm not mistaken. Indoor pools often have tiled walls? Someone was pushed into a pool, empty or not. It may have been Teddy or Booper's
"friend". It just seems that Booper had to have been the one to push the victim into the pool? I see the story how it's commonly seen I guess? Or Teddy killed himself, either one. If Teddy is depressed he's probably not going to seek a lot of joy or fun in pushing his 6 year old sister in a pool like a normal kid would. I don't know. It's all still up in the air to me. I loved this story

Anonymous said...

You have missed the entire purpose of the story. As much as would like to say everyone is entitled to their opinion, I can'. This is wrong. You are as J.D. Salinger would say a "bananafish"

Charles Deemer said...

No, Salinger is too fine an artist to write propaganda.

Leebers, Deebers, LeeLee said...

I think the reader must pay better attention to where Teddy tells Booper to meet him. He eventually refers to the antechamber to the pool, where people change clothes. The death/injury/suicide-event must have taken place in this room for two reasons: 1) the scream echoes within four tiled walls, which describes such a small changing room and NOT a pool and 2) the scream is heard from the middle of the steps, meaning the sound of the scream would have had to carry through the pool room, in addition to the antechamber changing room in order to be heard on the stairs. This is extremely unlikely.

Anonymous said...

"Over there," Booper said, indicating no direction at all. She drew her two stacks of
shuffleboard discs in closer to her. "All I need now is two giants," she said. "They could
play backgammon till they got all tired and then they could climb up on that
smokestack and throw these at everybody and kill them." She looked at Myron. "They
could kill your parents," she said to him knowledgeably. "And if that didn't kill them,
you know what you could do? You could put some poison on some marshmellows and
make them eat it."

Anonymous said...

Another vanity blog by a self-described "writer", with predictable results.

Charlie, the best rhyme for "mediocrity" is "ego".

Instead of chirping on about Zen clowns, give some of your abundant free time to studying Zen. Perhaps start by reading this story over.

"Sustained scream" by a little girl who is falling into a full pool? When a person falls two feet there is barely time for a yelp.

The standard interpretation leads to a mediocre story? I first read this story near thirty years ago and I can still remember how it felt getting to the end. My heart was pounding. It was so visceral. Chief, if you could write anything on this level, you would not be self-publishing, or teaching. You would be writing full-time.

A human being predicts his own death and calmly moves towards it. And you think that is boring.

Charles Deemer said...

Yes, I think a story without suspense is dramatically boring.

ZEN AND THE COMIC SPIRIT by Conrad Hyers (1974, Westminster Press) looks at the tradition among certain Zen masters of teaching by contradiction and paradox. One of these, Ten Yin-feng, is the subject of my one-act play "The Death of Ten Yin-feng" ("The Way is to the crematorium."). I think Salinger embraces this tradition in the story here, setting up one story while telling another.

You don't have to be so mean-spirited just because you disagree with me.

Charles Deemer said...

By the way, Mr. Mean-Spirited, I wrote full time for 25 years. I'm an old man now and into a different rhythm. I teach because I enjoy it and have inside information to share with students, who appreciate it. But I'll be too old to teach soon enough.

There are better ways to use your energy than ragging on me, sir.

Joe Kukki said...

Although "Mr. Mean-Spirited" is obviously mean-spirited, I am afraid I agree with his interpretation which he put so succinctly: "A human being predicts his own death and calmly moves towards it". This was essentially what I meant when I said that the only way to prepare for death is to live with the knowledge of one's ephemerality ("Nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon it will die"--the cicada seemingly embraces its death), and that this was finally realized when his prediction turns true, with the unlikelihood of the day of his swimming lesson, to be in fact the day the pool was emptied--a day he had already predicted to be "today or tomorrow".

But as much as I disagree with you Charles, I am not small enough to malign or belittle you for writing whatever the hell you want on your blog. It is your blog, and people on here should either contribute to the discussion in a objective fashion or bicker in their own blogs.

Twilight Traveler said...

I just read "Teddy", never having read any story by Salinger before (including "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"). For the record: while reading the final page, after Teddy had left Nicholson I knew that somebody was going to die before the story had ended. No idea why, but it was chilling.

E. Thompson said...

Upon reading this story, I also came to a similar conclusion, leading me to look up the analyses of others. However, in my understanding of the story, I was led to believe that Teddy pushed his sister into the pool, not because he did, in fact contain emotion, but because he was in some way trying to aid his sister, with whom he had a strong "affinity," to vomit up some of the apple that she had eaten. His talk on the deck with Nicholson about embracing death as just another awakening and nothing to be feared, was what prompted my opinion on the overall meaning of the girl's scream.

Anonymous said...

it is the student who hears the scream so it is from his perspective we are aware that something has perhaps occured.we must analyze it from that person's point of view. no one has done that here.since salinger is no longer here to elucidate us, if he would, and of course it doesnt matter what he would say at any rate as he might be a zen clown and misdirect us.i think we should ask david chase what he thinks. i do think that tony died as i looked at it from his perspective.