Zen Explains Messages from Nine Stories

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J.D. Salinger’s stories communicate many themes that are key principles in Zen Buddhism. These themes include: the importance of balance, the disapproval of logical thinking, and enlightenment. Salinger was questioning his religious views after the war. He turned to Zen Buddhism as his new perspective on life. You can tell his stories were influenced by his religion because most of the common themes throughout Nine Stories, a short story cycle, represent Zen ways of thinking. If a reader did not have a basic understanding of Zen Buddhism they may have trouble interpreting Salinger’s messages in his stories.

The importance of balance is a very strong theme in Zen. In “For Esmé with Love and Squalor,” Sergeant X was asked to write a story for Esmé and she requests lots of squalor. Sergeant X balances out the story so it is half about love and half about squalor. He writes “This is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes. The people change too. I’m still around…” (Salinger 103). The love and the squalor in the story balance out, just like the two parts of his life, pre and post war, were those opposites and then they balanced out. This balance allows him to return to being a man with all his faculties intact. He was so lucky to get that chance at recovery. Though love and squalor are strong emotions and having too much emotion is frowned upon in Zen traditions, it is not unhealthy for Sergeant X to have these strong feelings, according to Zen teachings, because they cancel each other out and cause a balance. In the other stories we see other things cause balance. For example in “Teddy” he wore all these beat-up, run-down, scruffy clothes that didn’t fit correctly, but he then wore a nice, fancy, alligator skin belt to balance it all out. It is customary in Zen for the stomach to be used to represent balance. The stomach is mentioned repeatedly in many of the short stories especially in “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.” Eloise tells...
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