For Esme--with Love and Compassion: J. D. Salinger's "positive" art
Hempel, Peter Andrew
Isle, Walter W.
Master of Arts
The basic conflict dominating Salinger's fiction, particularly his earlier work, is the conflict between the "innocence" of the protagonist and the "squalor" of the world around him. The protagonist must adapt or die. In this thesis I Propose to explore Salinger's use of an underlying growth pattern as a structural basis for much of his "positive" art. In Salinger's "positive" work the protagonist is able to come to some sort of resolution of this conflict and thus attain' at least a partial integration into society; the "negative" alternatives are spiritual death or suicide. "Growth" for the protagonist involves a movement from an immature "love," which is uncompromising in its insistence upon the purity of the objects of its love, to a mature "compassion," a love combined with an understanding of the "fallen" human condition, which can accept imperfection rather than being forced to reject an "imperfect" object or person. In "For Esme--with Love and Squalor," this change occurs in both the narrator and Esme, though with the narrator the focus is upon the emotional crisis of the conflict, while with Esme the focus is upon the transition from "love" to "compassion" as part of the overall growth to adulthood. This pattern serves also as the structural basis for The Catcher in the Rye and "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period," as well as, to a certain extent, Franny and Zooey. In my final chapter I attempt to indicate how this "love-compassion" pattern is reflected in Salinger's later works either in form or in his attempts to explore philosophical solutions to the conflict of innocence and squalor.