J.D. Salinger's book Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, published in February of 1963, immediately became the number one bestseller according to the New York Times Book Review of th
at year. The ensuing reviews of Salinger's last published work were quite varied. Some loved it; some hated it. There are several possible explanations for the bestseller's success despite its mixed reviews. Before this book was published Salinger him
self had retreated from society and began to live reclusively in Cornish, New Hampshire. He had a cult following which began after the immense reception of his first novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Thus, any work that Salinger published caught the eye of
his devoted readers. Raise High and Seymour were also the last two short stories that Salinger published of his famous Glass family, whose stories had been told for years in the pages of The New Yorker. We must also take into account the period in Ameri
ca when this book was published. Americans were going through many transformation, mental and spiritual in particular, and Salinger's style and teachings tapped into those changes. With all of these factors in mind, it is easy to see why J.D. Salinger's
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction won the praise of the American public and was pronounced a bestseller upon it's publication.
Salinger's style of writing has been praised for it's sensitivity and intuition since his first published word. Young readers throughout America identified with his character Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye. Salinger wrote of a person on the bri
nk of his manhood and the thoughts and questions everyone contemplates for themselves. After the publication of Catcher, a cult following came to fruition. Readers looked to Salinger to articulate what they were feeling inside. So, it is not very shock
ing that these readers went into withdrawal during the latter half of the 1960's. J.D. Salinger felt uncomfortable in society and literally became a recluse. This way of life for him had already become a reality before Raise High and Seymour were publis
hed. In 1963, when this book hit the stands, devoted readers snatched the book up as it was the only means to "hear" what Salinger had to say. He granted one interview during the 1960's which ultimately did not go over well, and never commented to the g
eneral public again. Many youthful readers saw Salinger as a friend and were quick to listen to what he had to say.
Many readers of Salinger's work have concluded that much of the stories are told in an auto-biographical way. Ian Hamilton best explains, "But he [Salinger] wants to be a saint because saints are above the human...He invents a saint, one that belongs to
him, that is him: a saint who writes beautiful poetry, who has a breakdown in the war, who marries the wrong woman, who commits suicide. Well, all right, Salinger doesn't commit suicide, but he does the next best thing: he disappears, he stops living in
the world, he makes himself semiposthumous. You can talk about him but you can't talk to him, just like Seymour Glass..." (Hamilton 150). Here, Hamilton is referring to Seymour Glass, the character who remains the protagonist throughout the Glass series
but is truly revealed in the final story, Seymour: An Introduction. This character, whose quest for spiritual enlightenment is told through the voice of his brother, Buddy Glass. Seymour is an illusive character who is referred to while Buddy describes
the rest of their family.
It is apparent that Salinger's previous success with Catcher in the Rye influenced his subsequent publications. This "coat-tail effect" is not unique to this situation. In nearly every review written of the Glass family series, reference was made to Cat
cher. Though Catcher did not serve as a prequel to any of Salinger's short stories, critics could not forget the magic of Salinger's first novel. He established a style with his first novel that was so enthusiastically accepted by the American public, t
hat any deviation from that was noted. Salinger did publish three works after Catcher, and with each publication, readers eagerly awaited a story that wowed them the way Holden Caufield had.
The Glass family saga has one very distinct difference from Holden Caufield: their story is told in a short story format. Frank O'Connor was quoted as defining the short story as, "the art form that deals with the individual when there is no longer a soc
iety to absorb him, and when he is compelled to exist, as it were, by his own inner light" (Kazin 26). Scholars and writers consistently praised Salinger for his mastery of the art of the short story through his series of the Glass family. Salinger publ
ished this series of stories in a non-chronological order. At first it seems as though the formation is uncompleted and haphazard. Yet, Salinger's choice of serialization established an interesting happening in contemporary fiction: these short stories
function as self-contained pieces of literature and also as a compound series. The author also sets up two different sequences in which the stories can be read. One can read the stories chronologically, in the order of publication and also the order in
which the narrator, Buddy Glass wrote them. One can also sequence the stories in order of the chronology of the events. Both of these thematic characteristics to Salinger's stories are innovative and excellently thought-out and display his overall mast
ery of the short story.
Perhaps the most researched and discussed issue in regard to Raise High and Seymour, is Salinger's growing personal interest in Eastern thought. J.D. Salinger was studying the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism throughout much of his published career and
it became a prominent influence in his later work. Salinger opens the story of Raise High with Buddy Glass recounting a memory of his brother Seymour and his sister Franny. Buddy recalls Franny as an infant and unable to sleep, crying at the top of her
lungs. Seymour, then seventeen, jumps up to her side and tells her a story. He reads her a Taoist tale, one that stresses the superiority of intuition over rational thought. This tale not only begins Salinger's short story, but also explains Seymour's
overall philosophy. However, we never actually meet Seymour in this story, thus his philosophy is recycled through the words of his brother Buddy. It is Buddy's transformation and inner change that proves to be the underlying theme in this short story.
Buddy struggles to find the truth of Seymour's character and his actions in marrying a seemingly unsuitable bride. His ultimate realization in understanding his brother can be directly tied back to the Taoist tale told at the beginning of the story. P
o Lo, the narrator of the Taoist tale describes Kao, who follows his intuition, as much better than his own, "What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualiti
es, he loses sight of the external" (Alsen 42). Buddy concludes that, like Kao, Seymour has achieved this higher way of thinking and acting.
It is also apparent that, though Buddy understands the enlightenment of his brother, he has not yet achieved it himself in Raise High. Buddy admits to have included the Taoist tale because it explains the meaning to his story of Seymour's wedding day. T
herefore, from having outright said his purpose in writing, he is not letting the process of writing flow as nature allows, a direct contradiction to the Eastern teaching.
This simple Taoist belief provides an elementary basis for Salinger's short story, Raise High. In Seymour: An Introduction, Salinger also reflects on Taoist and Buddhist thought, but in a more stream-of-consciousness, dialogue type of manner. Salinger's
characters are seeking truth and goodness in humanity through such Eastern teachings. This quest was particularly salient for much of the American public during this period. At the beginning of the 60's, the youth of America was generally frustrated wi
th the ever-increasing chaos of their country. Salinger was also dissatisfied with the state of affairs during this turbulent period in America and, through his short stories, explored other ways of thinking and living. This approach appealed to many of
readers at the time.
Though this quality in Salinger's book appealed to amateur readers, his short stories were not as successful with scholars and critics. Reviewer John Wain criticizes Salinger's immense task he sets out for himself in Raise High and Seymour, "The two mos
t difficult objectives known to man, to describe goodness and to make happiness credible, and Mr. Salinger has undertaken to reach them both at once!" He feels that Salinger has not only undertaken an enormous issue to deal with, he does not come to any w
orthwhile conclusions. He wrote, "Does it bring the glass family more sharply into focus? No. Does it help to put over the perceptions about human life that Mr. Salinger is trying to get into our heads? No. Does it irritate the hell out of us? Yes."
Critic Ganville Hicks agrees with Wain's assertions. Hicks discusses the Glass family's sense of superiority over their common man, "This is the heart of the problem Salinger is attacking: how can a person maintain the highest standards for himself, be
a perfectionist, and still respect and love people whose standards are lower?"
Critics did not receive Salinger's "new" style of writing as well as they had praised his earlier work. The themes of the later stories in the Glass family saga were notably much more philosophical and idealistic. Much of this idealism can be attributed
with Salinger's new Eastern influence. Scholars were giving acclamation to more conventional themes and structures of literature at this time. The general public wasn't as prejudiced and highly appreciated Salinger's unconventional style of writing, pa
rticularly in the fragmented narration of Buddy Glass in Seymour: An Introduction.
This style, also termed Neo-Romanticism, was apparent in other bestsellers at this time. John Updike's novel The Centaur was recorded as the Number 9 bestseller in The New York Times Book Review the week of Raise High's publication. Updike's story of a
mythological half man, half horse was also a commentary on society. Like Salinger, Updike explored themes of humanity and life. Peter Buitennuis reviewed John Updike's novel in the Times Book Review and commented on the author's sensitivity to objects a
nd relationships. Buitennuis characterizes The Centaur as a, "strange, disturbing and rewarding book." Both contain idealistic and philosophical themes which reflect America's desire for a new perspective.
Salinger's abrasive rejection of mainstream American culture greatly affected the reception of his book amongst critics. Yet, the success of his work and the work of his contemporary writers known as the Beat writers, suggests that there were more Americ
ans reading than just critics and scholars. A large portion of America appreciated the questions Salinger raised, the new approaches he took in attempting to provide a solution and his ability to explore different, more unconventional styles of writing.
Alsen, Eberhard. Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel. New York: The
Whitson Publishing Co., 1983.
Hamilton, Ian. In Search of J.D. Salinger. New York: Random House, 1988.
Hassan, Ihab. "The Casino of Silence." Saturday Review 26 Jan 1963:38.
Hicks, Granville. "A Glass Menagerie." Saturday Review 26 Jan 1963:37-38.
Kazin, Alfred. "J.D. Salinger: ?Everybody's Favorite'." Modern Critical Views:
J.D. Salinger. Ed. Harold Bloom. Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1987.
Schultz, Max F. "Epilogue to ?Seymour: An Introduction': Salinger and the Crisis
Of Consciousness." Modern Critical Views: J.D. Salinger. Ed. Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1987. 53-62.