Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller

As a flute melody plays, Willy Loman returns to his home in Brooklyn one night, exhausted from a failed sales trip. His wife, Linda, tries to persuade him to ask his boss, Howard Wagner, to let him work in New York so that he won’t have to travel. Willy says that he will talk to Howard the next day. Willy complains that Biff, his older son who has come back home to visit, has yet to make something of himself. Linda scolds Willy for being so critical, and Willy goes to the kitchen for a snack.
 
 
As Willy talks to himself in the kitchen, Biff and his younger brother, Happy, who is also visiting, reminisce about their adolescence and discuss their father’s babbling, which often includes criticism of Biff’s failure to live up to Willy’s expectations. As Biff and Happy, dissatisfied with their lives, fantasize about buying a ranch out West, Willy becomes immersed in a daydream. He praises his sons, now younger, who are washing his car. The young Biff, a high school football star, and the young Happy appear. They interact affectionately with their father, who has just returned from a business trip. Willy confides in Biff and Happy that he is going to open his own business one day, bigger than that owned by his neighbor, Charley. Charley’s son, Bernard, enters looking for Biff, who must study for math class in order to avoid failing. Willy points out to his sons that although Bernard is smart, he is not “well liked,” which will hurt him in the long run.
A younger Linda enters, and the boys leave to do some chores. Willy boasts of a phenomenally successful sales trip, but Linda coaxes him into revealing that his trip was actually only meagerly successful. Willy complains that he soon won’t be able to make all of the payments on their appliances and car. He complains that people don’t like him and that he’s not good at his job. As Linda consoles him, he hears the laughter of his mistress. He approaches The Woman, who is still laughing, and engages in another reminiscent daydream. Willy and The Woman flirt, and she thanks him for giving him stockings.
The Woman disappears, and Willy fades back into his prior daydream, in the kitchen. Linda, now mending stockings, reassures him. He scolds her mending and orders her to throw the stockings out. Bernard bursts in, again looking for Biff. Linda reminds Willy that Biff has to return a football that he stole, and she adds that Biff is too rough with the neighborhood girls. Willy hears The Woman laugh and explodes at Bernard and Linda. Both leave, and though the daydream ends, Willy continues to mutter to himself. The older Happy comes downstairs and tries to quiet Willy. Agitated, Willy shouts his regret about not going to Alaska with his brother, Ben, who eventually found a diamond mine in Africa and became rich. Charley, having heard the commotion, enters. Happy goes off to bed, and Willy and Charley begin to play cards. Charley offers Willy a job, but Willy, insulted, refuses it. As they argue, Willy imagines that Ben enters. Willy accidentally calls Charley Ben. Ben inspects Willy’s house and tells him that he has to catch a train soon to look at properties in Alaska. As Willy talks to Ben about the prospect of going to Alaska, Charley, seeing no one there, gets confused and questions Willy. Willy yells at Charley, who leaves. The younger Linda enters and Ben meets her. Willy asks Ben impatiently about his life. Ben recounts his travels and talks about their father. As Ben is about to leave, Willy daydreams further, and Charley and Bernard rush in to tell him that Biff and Happy are stealing lumber. Although Ben eventually leaves, Willy continues to talk to him.
Back in the present, the older Linda enters to find Willy outside. Biff and Happy come downstairs and discuss Willy’s condition with their mother. Linda scolds Biff for judging Willy harshly. Biff tells her that he knows Willy is a fake, but he refuses to elaborate. Linda mentions that Willy has tried to commit suicide. Happy grows angry and rebukes Biff for his failure in the business world. Willy enters and yells at Biff. Happy intervenes and eventually proposes that he and Biff go into the sporting goods business together. Willy immediately brightens and gives Biff a host of tips about asking for a loan from one of Biff’s old employers, Bill Oliver. After more arguing and reconciliation, everyone finally goes to bed.
Act II opens with Willy enjoying the breakfast that Linda has made for him. Willy ponders the bright-seeming future before getting angry again about his expensive appliances. Linda informs Willy that Biff and Happy are taking him out to dinner that night. Excited, Willy announces that he is going to make Howard Wagner give him a New York job. The phone rings, and Linda chats with Biff, reminding him to be nice to his father at the restaurant that night.
As the lights fade on Linda, they come up on Howard playing with a wire recorder in his office. Willy tries to broach the subject of working in New York, but Howard interrupts him and makes him listen to his kids and wife on the wire recorder. When Willy finally gets a word in, Howard rejects his plea. Willy launches into a lengthy recalling of how a legendary salesman named Dave Singleman inspired him to go into sales. Howard leaves and Willy gets angry. Howard soon re-enters and tells Willy to take some time off. Howard leaves and Ben enters, inviting Willy to join him in Alaska. The younger Linda enters and reminds Willy of his sons and job. The young Biff enters, and Willy praises Biff’s prospects and the fact that he is well liked.
Ben leaves and Bernard rushes in, eagerly awaiting Biff’s big football game. Willy speaks optimistically to Biff about the game. Charley enters and teases Willy about the game. As Willy chases Charley off, the lights rise on a different part of the stage. Willy continues yelling from offstage, and Jenny, Charley’s secretary, asks a grown-up Bernard to quiet him down. Willy enters and prattles on about a “very big deal” that Biff is working on. Daunted by Bernard’s success (he mentions to Willy that he is going to Washington to fight a case), Willy asks Bernard why Biff turned out to be such a failure. Bernard asks Willy what happened in Boston that made Biff decide not to go to summer school. Willy defensively tells Bernard not to blame him.
Charley enters and sees Bernard off. When Willy asks for more money than Charley usually loans him, Charley again offers Willy a job. Willy again refuses and eventually tells Charley that he was fired. Charley scolds Willy for always needing to be liked and angrily gives him the money. Calling Charley his only friend, Willy exits on the verge of tears.
At Frank’s Chop House, Happy helps Stanley, a waiter, prepare a table. They ogle and chat up a girl, Miss Forsythe, who enters the restaurant. Biff enters, and Happy introduces him to Miss Forsythe, continuing to flirt with her. Miss Forsythe, a call girl, leaves to telephone another call girl (at Happy’s request), and Biff spills out that he waited six hours for Bill Oliver and Oliver didn’t even recognize him. Upset at his father’s unrelenting misconception that he, Biff, was a salesman for Oliver, Biff plans to relieve Willy of his illusions. Willy enters, and Biff tries gently, at first, to tell him what happened at Oliver’s office. Willy blurts out that he was fired. Stunned, Biff again tries to let Willy down easily. Happy cuts in with remarks suggesting Biff’s success, and Willy eagerly awaits the good news.
Biff finally explodes at Willy for being unwilling to listen. The young Bernard runs in shouting for Linda, and Biff, Happy, and Willy start to argue. As Biff explains what happened, their conversation recedes into the background. The young Bernard tells Linda that Biff failed math. The restaurant conversation comes back into focus and Willy criticizes Biff for failing math. Willy then hears the voice of the hotel operator in Boston and shouts that he is not in his room. Biff scrambles to quiet Willy and claims that Oliver is talking to his partner about giving Biff the money. Willy’s renewed interest and probing questions irk Biff more, and he screams at Willy. Willy hears The Woman laugh and he shouts back at Biff, hitting him and staggering. Miss Forsythe enters with another call girl, Letta. Biff helps Willy to the washroom and, finding Happy flirting with the girls, argues with him about Willy. Biff storms out, and Happy follows with the girls.
Willy and The Woman enter, dressing themselves and flirting. The door knocks and Willy hurries The Woman into the bathroom. Willy answers the door; the young Biff enters and tells Willy that he failed math. Willy tries to usher him out of the room, but Biff imitates his math teacher’s lisp, which elicits laughter from Willy and The Woman. Willy tries to cover up his indiscretion, but Biff refuses to believe his stories and storms out, dejected, calling Willy a “phony little fake.” Back in the restaurant, Stanley helps Willy up. Willy asks him where he can find a seed store. Stanley gives him directions to one, and Willy hurries off.
The light comes up on the Loman kitchen, where Happy enters looking for Willy. He moves into the living room and sees Linda. Biff comes inside and Linda scolds the boys and slaps away the flowers in Happy’s hand. She yells at them for abandoning Willy. Happy attempts to appease her, but Biff goes in search of Willy. He finds Willy planting seeds in the garden with a flashlight. Willy is consulting Ben about a $20,000 proposition. Biff approaches him to say goodbye and tries to bring him inside. Willy moves into the house, followed by Biff, and becomes angry again about Biff’s failure. Happy tries to calm Biff, but Biff and Willy erupt in fury at each other. Biff starts to sob, which touches Willy. Everyone goes to bed except Willy, who renews his conversation with Ben, elated at how great Biff will be with $20,000 of insurance money. Linda soon calls out for Willy but gets no response. Biff and Happy listen as well. They hear Willy’s car speed away.
In the requiem, Linda and Happy stand in shock after Willy’s poorly attended funeral. Biff states that Willy had the wrong dreams. Charley defends Willy as a victim of his profession. Ready to leave, Biff invites Happy to go back out West with him. Happy declares that he will stick it out in New York to validate Willy’s death. Linda asks Willy for forgiveness for being unable to cry. She begins to sob, repeating “We’re free. . . .” All exit, and the flute melody is heard as the curtain falls.
 
 
 
 

Juan Carlos Onetti

Para los aficionados: las entrevistas. A veces brusco y taciturno, a veces de buen humor y hablador, jamás locuaz y siempre lúcido: así habla Onetti sobre libros y escritores, sobre política e historia, sobre el amor y la muerte, o sea, sobre el tema de su literatura, "la aventura absurda que significa el paso del hombre sobre la tierra."

Fragmentos de las entrevistas – "best of" – van llenando poco a poco ésta página. En las noticias se avisan las entregas nuevas.



¿Qué función desempeña el intelectual en nuestra sociedad y cuáles son las actividades que según Ud. le corresponden?
Onetti: No desempeña ninguna tarea de importancia social. Le corresponde tener talento.

¿Qué medidas concretas estima necesarias para mantener viva la comunicación escritor-público?
Onetti: Placer de reiterar: que el escritor tenga talento.

(Marcha, Montevideo 27.5.1960)



¿Cómo debe a su juicio expresarse el llamado "compromiso de los escritors"?
Onetti: Se trata de responder una encuesta organizada por un diario comunista. Me divierte pensar que tal vez no hayan encontrado mejor ejemplo que el suscrito para presentar las lacras morbosas de un escritor pequeño burgues y decadente. Alguién inventó el término y el destino del escritor comprometido. Soy inocente. El único compromiso que acepto es la persistencia en tratar de escribir bien y mejor y encontrar con sinceridad cómo es la vida que me tocó conocer y cómo es la gente condenada a convertirse en personajes de mis libros.

¿La creación lleva implícita la denuncia consciente a la crítica al mundo en que ubica su obra el autor?
Onetti: La creación lleva implícita óse quiera o noó la denuncia y la crítica de un mundo en que la gente nace y muere sin enterarse ni por qué ni para qué. Es indudable que a esta altura coexisten en la R.O.U. [República Oriental del Uruguay] gente con millones y gente que vive en cantegriles, barrios de ratas y intemperie. ¿Pero qué podemos hacer con los proclamados bestsellers de 1500 ejemplares? Sin contar que lo que más nos preocupa en el momento de escribir son problemas de estilo y construcción. Y que es indispensable resolver tales problemas si aspiramos (aspiran) a tener una literatura nacional. Agreguemos que los muertos de hambre no tienen dinero para comprar nuestros libros, ni interés, ni tiempo para leernos. Cuando la miseria llegue a la desesperación es posible que las cosa cambien, sin mérito o culpa nuestros. Tal vez ese posible futuro sólo ofrezca un poco de plomo, y, para guardar tra[d]iciones, un cuchillo mellado en la garganta.

¿Es vigente la soledad del escritor o habría que modificar el concepto en la actualidad?
Onetti: Si la soledad significa lo que yo entiendo, contesto "vigentísima". Para todo ser humano, escriba o no. En caso contrario me adhiero espiritualmente a las peñas, las mesas redondas y los torneos con flores naturales.

(El Popular / Suplemento Cultural, Montevideo 26.1.1962)



Onetti: Yo escribo por ataques: a veces me paso meses y meses y no se me ocurre nada, pero siempre sé que va a volver, que siempre volverá. Y vuelve: en el momento más inesperado, el tema llega y lo domina a uno. Cuando uno se pone a buscar el tema, como hacen algunos que no quisiera nombrar, pensando que está bien escribir esto y mal esto otro, entonces uno no es un artista. Podrá ser un correcto escritor, pero no un artista.

(Eduardo Galeano: "Onetti, el áspero", Marcha, Montevideo 12.1.1962)



Onetti: El que pretende dirigirse a la humanidad o es un tramposo o está equivocado. La pretendida comunicación se cumple o no; el autor no es responsable, ella se da o no por añadidura. El que quiera enviar un mensaje – como se ha reiterado tantas veces – que encargue esta tarea a una mensajería. / Escribir bien no es algo que el auténtico escritor se propone. Le es tan inevitable como su cara y su condutca. Además, si la literatura es una arte, "En busca del tiempo perdido" importa más que todo lo que se ha escrito en Hispanoamérica desde hace un siglo y medio. Acepto la posibilidad de estar equivocado, y si alguien me puede citar un título o un autor que neutralice o destruya esta opinón, bienvenido sea.

(Guido Castillo: "Juan Carlos Onetti. Ahora en Montevideo", El País, Montevideo 28.1.1962)



Onetti: Artigas forma parte de una genealogía que se dan los pueblos, obligatoriamente, como se dan las familias pobres, y en la que son necesarios tanto el héroe nacional como el poeta y el novelista nacionales y como el cantor nacional. Si ustedes tienen a Napoleón nosotros tenemos a Artigas, si ustedes tienen a Baudelaire nosotros tenemos a Zorrilla. Gardel es parte inseparable de la genealogía de los pueblos del Plata.

¿Qué nacionalidad tenía?
Onetti: Para mi era francés.

(Alfredo Zitarrosa: "Onetti y la magía de El Mago", Marcha, Montevideo 25.6.1965)



Onetti: Cuando la gente además de burra escribe en un diario suele fastidiarme. ¿A usted no?

Si usted estuviera en mi lugar reporteando a Onetti, ¿qué le preguntaría sobre la literatura uruguaya?
Onetti: Una monstruosidad.

¿Y usted que contestaría?
Onetti: Que no es elegante hablar de los colegas.

No me imagino al protagonista de una leyenda negra contestando eso.
Onetti: Ahí esta el error, no tengo nada que ver con esa leyenda.

¿Cómo? ¿Entonces usted no es el laboratorista que toma la gente como conejillo de Indias? ¿Una especie de experimentador sin escrúpulos, un retorcido a quien imputan las peores maldades?
Onetti: No, no soy. Ni siquiera soy el alcoholista mujeriego de que habla el capítulo segundo de la leyenda.

Sin embargo, se casó cuatro veces y desde que llegué se tomó sus buenos tres vasos de vino.
Onetti: Solo con vino puedo agunatar los reportajes.

Gracias.
Onetti: En cuanto a mi pasión por experimentar no pasa de la cuota normal. Usted misma me ha querido enfrentar o otro autor nacional para divertirse.

¿Le parece comparable? Yo lo he visto reunir ex amantes cada uno con sus nuevos amores para observar sus reacciones. Todo con la expresión más inocente.
Onetti: Tengo yo la culpa de ser un maestro? Sé armar bien las cosas, no tengo la culpa de que otros la armen mal. La única diferencia es esa. No soy culpable, señora, no soy. Dios me ha hecho así, sólo me resta cumplir. La leyenda, en lo fundamental: calumnias. Ignoracia, desconocimento de los hechos. Yo sigo viviendo y la leyenda crece. Cada día soy más malo.

¿Usted no cree que la leyenda tiene buen pie en su literatura?
Onetti: No, mi literatura es una literatura de bondad. El que no lo ve es un burro.

¿Por qué escribe?
Onetti: Escribo para mí. Para mi placer. Para mi vicio. Para mi dulce condencación.

¿Cómo escribe?
Onetti: Estupendamente.

Conteste con seriedad.
Onetti: Sí, señora. No entendí la pregunta.

Bueno, quiero decir si escribe con un plan que elabora previamente. Si sabe exactamente adónde va a llegar.
Onetti: Sé qué va a pasar. No sé cómo va pasar. Si supiera cómo va a pasar no lo escribiría.

¿Quiere decir que verdaderamente escribe para usted? ¿Que en una isla desierta escribiría?
Onetti: Escribiría.

(María Esther Gilio, "Un monstruo sagrado y su cara de bondad", La Mañana, Montevideo 20.8.1965)


¿Considera que sus críticos no interpretan correctamente?
Onetti: Si por "interpretación correcta" usted entiende "interpretación total" le digo que eso no puede suceder nunca. Ni siquiera en el amor. Además los críticos que me importan saben mucho más de literatura que yo.

Había pensado preguntarle algo tan poco íntimo como su posición frente a la literatura comprometida.
Onetti: Eso acaba de inventarlo.

Aun así vale la pena que me conteste.
Onetti: Creo que no hay más compromiso que el que uno acepta tácitamente cuando se pone a trabajar o jugar. Es un compromiso con uno mismo. Se trata siempre de escribir lo mejor que nos sea posible; con total sinceridad, sin pensar nunca en los hipotéticos fulanos que van a leernos.

Si es así, ¿por qué en el prólogo a la primera edición de Para esta noche usted habla de "participar", "participar en dolores y angustias", como si en ese libro en particular, no en los otros, usted estuviera tomando posición frente a un conflicto exterior, como si estuviera aceptando un compromiso, buscando deliberadamente una participación?
Onetti: El hecho de que hable expresamente de compromiso en ese prólogo no modifica las cosas. En todo lo que escribí he participado. Sólo los malos escritores creen que tal compromiso debe ser expresamente político.

Sartre, por ejemplo…?
Onetti: ¿Cuál el el compromiso político de Sartre en la mejor de sus novelas, "La náusea"?

Bueno, yo creo que usted se niega al mundo. Y su literatura es un reflejo muy claro de su forma de vida… sus personajes desconectados de la realidad, moviéndose en un mundo distorsionado…
Onetti: Primero tendría que preguntarlo por qué cree que "su realidad" es "la realidad". Mis personajes están desconectados con la realidad de usted, no con la realidad de ellos. En cuanto al mundo distorsionado, concedo. Pero… o uno distorsiona el mundo para poder expresarse o hace periodismo, reportajes… malas novelas fotográficas.

¿Se identifica con el protagonista de El pozo cunado éste decía: "Soy un hombre solitario que fuma en un sitio cualquiera de la ciudad"?
Onetti: Sí, con éste y con muchos otros protagonistas. ¿Tampoco le contaron que el arte es una eterna confesión?

Sigue siende ese solitario?
Onetti: Como todo el mundo. La diferencia está en que algunos se dan cuenta y otros se distraen.

¿Tiene alguna idea acerca de por qué sus actos son tan poco comprendidos o aceptados por la gente?
Onetti: La clave puede estar en que siempre digo lo que pienso y trato de hacer lo que quiero… No hablemos del resto. Conzco personas que me aceptan y me comprenden. Con ellas vivo.

Estos tarados que en su literatura tienen razón frente al los cuerdos ("Jacob y el otro", "Historia del caballlero de la rosa…") son un símbolo de lo que pasa en el mundo?
Onetti: De ningún modo. Tienen razón, éxito muy pocas veces. Pero conviene aclarar que los tarados son, para mí, los cuerdos, la aplastante inmensa mayoría occidental, cristiana, demócrata, correcta e hipócrita. Et viceversa.

(María Esther Gilio: "Onetti y sus demonios interiores", Marcha, Montevideo 1.7.1966)

 

 

The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and its action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a character in the play, which is set in St. Louis in 1937. He is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Laura’s father, ran off years ago and, except for one postcard, has not been heard from since.
 
 
Amanda, originally from a genteel Southern family, regales her children frequently with tales of her idyllic youth and the scores of suitors who once pursued her. She is disappointed that Laura, who wears a brace on her leg and is painfully shy, does not attract any gentleman callers. She enrolls Laura in a business college, hoping that she will make her own and the family’s fortune through a business career. Weeks later, however, Amanda discovers that Laura’s crippling shyness has led her to drop out of the class secretly and spend her days wandering the city alone. Amanda then decides that Laura’s last hope must lie in marriage and begins selling newspaper subscriptions to earn the extra money she believes will help to attract suitors for Laura. Meanwhile, Tom, who loathes his warehouse job, finds escape in liquor, movies, and literature, much to his mother’s chagrin. During one of the frequent arguments between mother and son, Tom accidentally breaks several of the glass animal figurines that are Laura’s most prized possessions.
Amanda and Tom discuss Laura’s prospects, and Amanda asks Tom to keep an eye out for potential suitors at the warehouse. Tom selects Jim O’Connor, a casual friend, and invites him to dinner. Amanda quizzes Tom about Jim and is delighted to learn that he is a driven young man with his mind set on career advancement. She prepares an elaborate dinner and insists that Laura wear a new dress. At the last minute, Laura learns the name of her caller; as it turns out, she had a devastating crush on Jim in high school. When Jim arrives, Laura answers the door, on Amanda’s orders, and then quickly disappears, leaving Tom and Jim alone. Tom confides to Jim that he has used the money for his family’s electric bill to join the merchant marine and plans to leave his job and family in search of adventure. Laura refuses to eat dinner with the others, feigning illness. Amanda, wearing an ostentatious dress from her glamorous youth, talks vivaciously with Jim throughout the meal.
As dinner is ending, the lights go out as a consequence of the unpaid electric bill. The characters light candles, and Amanda encourages Jim to entertain Laura in the living room while she and Tom clean up. Laura is at first paralyzed by Jim’s presence, but his warm and open behavior soon draws her out of her shell. She confesses that she knew and liked him in high school but was too shy to approach him. They continue talking, and Laura reminds him of the nickname he had given her: “Blue Roses,” an accidental corruption of the word for Laura’s medical condition, pleurosis. He reproaches her for her shyness and low self-esteem but praises her uniqueness. Laura then ventures to show him her favorite glass animal, a unicorn. Jim dances with her, but in the process, he accidentally knocks over the unicorn, breaking off its horn. Laura is forgiving, noting that now the unicorn is a normal horse. Jim then kisses her, but he quickly draws back and apologizes, explaining that he was carried away by the moment and that he actually has a serious girlfriend. Resigned, Laura offers him the broken unicorn as a souvenir.
Amanda enters the living room, full of good cheer. Jim hastily explains that he must leave because of an appointment with his fiancée. Amanda sees him off warmly but, after he is gone, turns on Tom, who had not known that Jim was engaged. Amanda accuses Tom of being an inattentive, selfish dreamer and then throws herself into comforting Laura. From the fire escape outside of their apartment, Tom watches the two women and explains that, not long after Jim’s visit, he gets fired from his job and leaves Amanda and Laura behind. Years later, though he travels far, he finds that he is unable to leave behind guilty memories of Laura.
 
 
 

The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

Plot Overview
The Catcher in the Rye is set around the 1950s and is narrated by a young man named Holden Caulfield. Holden is not specific about his location while he’s telling the story, but he makes it clear that he is undergoing treatment in a mental hospital or sanatorium. The events he narrates take place in the few days between the end of the fall school term and Christmas, when Holden is sixteen years old.
 
  
 
Holden’s story begins on the Saturday following the end of classes at the Pencey prep school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Pencey is Holden’s fourth school; he has already failed out of three others. At Pencey, he has failed four out of five of his classes and has received notice that he is being expelled, but he is not scheduled to return home to Manhattan until Wednesday. He visits his elderly history teacher, Spencer, to say goodbye, but when Spencer tries to reprimand him for his poor academic performance, Holden becomes annoyed.
Back in the dormitory, Holden is further irritated by his unhygienic neighbor, Ackley, and by his own roommate, Stradlater. Stradlater spends the evening on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl whom Holden used to date and whom he still admires. During the course of the evening, Holden grows increasingly nervous about Stradlater’s taking Jane out, and when Stradlater returns, Holden questions him insistently about whether he tried to have sex with her. Stradlater teases Holden, who flies into a rage and attacks Stradlater. Stradlater pins Holden down and bloodies his nose. Holden decides that he’s had enough of Pencey and will go to Manhattan three days early, stay in a hotel, and not tell his parents that he is back.
On the train to New York, Holden meets the mother of one of his fellow Pencey students. Though he thinks this student is a complete “bastard,” he tells the woman made-up stories about how shy her son is and how well respected he is at school. When he arrives at Penn Station, he goes into a phone booth and considers calling several people, but for various reasons he decides against it. He gets in a cab and asks the cab driver where the ducks in Central Park go when the lagoon freezes, but his question annoys the driver. Holden has the cab take him to the Edmont Hotel, where he checks himself in.
From his room at the Edmont, Holden can see into the rooms of some of the guests in the opposite wing. He observes a man putting on silk stockings, high heels, a bra, a corset, and an evening gown. He also sees a man and a woman in another room taking turns spitting mouthfuls of their drinks into each other’s faces and laughing hysterically. He interprets the couple’s behavior as a form of sexual play and is both upset and aroused by it. After smoking a couple of cigarettes, he calls Faith Cavendish, a woman he has never met but whose number he got from an acquaintance at Princeton. Holden thinks he remembers hearing that she used to be a stripper, and he believes he can persuade her to have sex with him. He calls her, and though she is at first annoyed to be called at such a late hour by a complete stranger, she eventually suggests that they meet the next day. Holden doesn’t want to wait that long and winds up hanging up without arranging a meeting.
Holden goes downstairs to the Lavender Room and sits at a table, but the waiter realizes he’s a minor and refuses to serve him. He flirts with three women in their thirties, who seem like they’re from out of town and are mostly interested in catching a glimpse of a celebrity. Nevertheless, Holden dances with them and feels that he is “half in love” with the blonde one after seeing how well she dances. After making some wisecracks about his age, they leave, letting him pay their entire tab.
As Holden goes out to the lobby, he starts to think about Jane Gallagher and, in a flashback, recounts how he got to know her. They met while spending a summer vacation in Maine, played golf and checkers, and held hands at the movies. One afternoon, during a game of checkers, her stepfather came onto the porch where they were playing, and when he left Jane began to cry. Holden had moved to sit beside her and kissed her all over her face, but she wouldn’t let him kiss her on the mouth. That was the closest they came to “necking.”
Holden leaves the Edmont and takes a cab to Ernie’s jazz club in Greenwich Village. Again, he asks the cab driver where the ducks in Central Park go in the winter, and this cabbie is even more irritable than the first one. Holden sits alone at a table in Ernie’s and observes the other patrons with distaste. He runs into Lillian Simmons, one of his older brother’s former girlfriends, who invites him to sit with her and her date. Holden says he has to meet someone, leaves, and walks back to the Edmont.
Maurice, the elevator operator at the Edmont, offers to send a prostitute to Holden’s room for five dollars, and Holden agrees. A young woman, identifying herself as “Sunny,” arrives at his door. She pulls off her dress, but Holden starts to feel “peculiar” and tries to make conversation with her. He claims that he recently underwent a spinal operation and isn’t sufficiently -recovered to have sex with her, but he offers to pay her anyway. She sits on his lap and talks dirty to him, but he insists on paying her five dollars and showing her the door. Sunny returns with Maurice, who demands another five dollars from Holden. When Holden refuses to pay, Maurice punches him in the stomach and leaves him on the floor, while Sunny takes five dollars from his wallet. Holden goes to bed.
He wakes up at ten o’clock on Sunday and calls Sally Hayes, an attractive girl whom he has dated in the past. They arrange to meet for a matinee showing of a Broadway play. He eats breakfast at a sandwich bar, where he converses with two nuns about Romeo and Juliet. He gives the nuns ten dollars. He tries to telephone Jane Gallagher, but her mother answers the phone, and he hangs up. He takes a cab to Central Park to look for his younger sister, Phoebe, but she isn’t there. He helps one of Phoebe’s schoolmates tighten her skate, and the girl tells him that Phoebe might be in the Museum of Natural History. Though he knows that Phoebe’s class wouldn’t be at the museum on a Sunday, he goes there anyway, but when he gets there he decides not to go in and instead takes a cab to the Biltmore Hotel to meet Sally.
Holden and Sally go to the play, and Holden is annoyed that Sally talks with a boy she knows from Andover afterward. At Sally’s suggestion, they go to Radio City to ice skate. They both skate poorly and decide to get a table instead. Holden tries to explain to Sally why he is unhappy at school, and actually urges her to run away with him to Massachusetts or Vermont and live in a cabin. When she refuses, he calls her a “pain in the ass” and laughs at her when she reacts angrily. She refuses to listen to his apologies and leaves.
Holden calls Jane again, but there is no answer. He calls Carl Luce, a young man who had been Holden’s student advisor at the Whooton School and who is now a student at Columbia University. Luce arranges to meet him for a drink after dinner, and Holden goes to a movie at Radio City to kill time. Holden and Luce meet at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel. At Whooton, Luce had spoken frankly with some of the boys about sex, and Holden tries to draw him into a conversation about it once more. Luce grows irritated by Holden’s juvenile remarks about homosexuals and about Luce’s Chinese girlfriend, and he makes an excuse to leave early. Holden continues to drink Scotch and listen to the pianist and singer.
Quite drunk, Holden telephones Sally Hayes and babbles about their Christmas Eve plans. Then he goes to the lagoon in Central Park, where he used to watch the ducks as a child. It takes him a long time to find it, and by the time he does, he is freezing cold. He then decides to sneak into his own apartment building and wake his sister, Phoebe. He is forced to admit to Phoebe that he was kicked out of school, which makes her mad at him. When he tries to explain why he hates school, she accuses him of not liking anything. He tells her his fantasy of being “the catcher in the rye,” a person who catches little children as they are about to fall off of a cliff. Phoebe tells him that he has misremembered the poem that he took the image from: Robert Burns’s poem says “if a body meet a body, coming through the rye,” not “catch a body.”
Holden calls his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who tells Holden he can come to his apartment. Mr. Antolini asks Holden about his expulsion and tries to counsel him about his future. Holden can’t hide his sleepiness, and Mr. Antolini puts him to bed on the couch. Holden awakens to find Mr. Antolini stroking his forehead. Thinking that Mr. Antolini is making a homosexual overture, Holden hastily excuses himself and leaves, sleeping for a few hours on a bench at Grand Central Station.
Holden goes to Phoebe’s school and sends her a note saying that he is leaving home for good and that she should meet him at lunchtime at the museum. When Phoebe arrives, she is carrying a suitcase full of clothes, and she asks Holden to take her with him. He refuses angrily, and she cries and then refuses to speak to him. Knowing she will follow him, he walks to the zoo, and then takes her across the park to a carousel. He buys her a ticket and watches her ride it. It starts to rain heavily, but Holden is so happy watching his sister ride the carousel that he is close to tears.
Holden ends his narrative here, telling the reader that he is not going to tell the story of how he went home and got “sick.” He plans to go to a new school in the fall and is cautiously optimistic about his future.

Life & Times of Michael K – J. M. Coetzee

  Life & Times of Michael K is set in a dystopian South Africa of around the 1970s in which there is a civil war going on. The setting matters some, but what might be thought to be the obvious — issues of race, especially — aren’t at the forefront. Life & Times of Michael K is the story of the title character, and he’s not much a part of society (not that there’s all that much society to be part of).
       Michael K has a hare lip which, though it could be easily medically corrected, never is. He’s also a bit slow in the head and was institutionalised as a child. As a doctor who later treats him explains:

He is a simpleton, and not even an interesting simpleton. He is a poor helpless soul who has been permitted to wander out on the battlefield, if I may use that word, the battlefield of life, when he should have ben shut away in an institution with high walls, stuffing cushions or watering the flower beds

       It’s always a challenge using an innocent as a central character. If it is a child, then generally guilt (or death) must eventually attach; a simpleton, however, remains simple — remains in a state of purity, innocence, and grace. There’s obvious appeal to that, and yet it’s also terribly limiting.
       Michael K is thirty-one when the story begins. His mother, Anna, who works as a domestic servant is ill, and things are looking bleak in the coastal city where Michael also lives, so she persuades him to take her back to the town where she was born. The state of affairs necessitates travelling permits and the like, but eventually Michael just packs his mother in a homemade cart and rolls her off to the country. She dies along the way, but eventually Michael makes it there on his own.
       Michael lives on the land, communing with nature (and barely scraping by), and also lands in the labour/internment camps that have sprung up all over the nation. He fares best (except in terms of getting enough to eat) when left alone — and that’s all he wants to do: be left alone.
       The book is told in three parts. The first (two-thirds of the book’s length) covers most of his adventures, until he’s scooped up again by the army and suspected of helping the collaborators. The second part is narrated by a doctor at one of the camps he is sent to. Grossly malnourished, Michael is kept under medical supervision (and promptly returned to it after he is briefly released into the general population), and the doctor, intrigued by him, writes about him. Michael eventually escapes from the camp, and in the last section returns to the city he started out in.
       It is a story of survival and isolation, the individual struggling against a society gone awry — and struggling to survive in nature. There is only a vague, ominous sense of how bad things really are in the greater society, as when the doctor speaks with a camp-administrator (regarding their apparently relatively lenient treatment of the camp-inmates):

     ‘But we are soft,’ I suggest.
     ‘Perhaps we are soft,’ he replies. ‘Perhaps we are even scheming a bit, at the back of our minds. Perhaps we think that if one day they come and put everyone on trial, someone will step forward and say, "Let those two off, they were soft." Who knows ?’

       Michael K, the primitive innocent, is generally treated fairly decently and softly. Someone suggests to him:

     ‘You’re a baby,’ said Robert. ‘You’ve been asleep all your life. It’s time to wake up. Why do you think they give you charity, you and the children ? Because they think you are harmless, your eyes aren’t opened, you don’t see the truth around you.’

       Of course, the truth is apparent — at least to the reader — through what Michael is going through and what he witnesses. Nevertheless, he is certainly not socially (or politically) engaged (or, apparently, engagable). On some level this works: the innocent who stands above and beyond it all, untouched by mortal sin. But it’s hardly a useful mirror to hold up to the reader.
       Coetzee has Michael K think:

How fortunate that I have no children, he thought: how fortunate that I have no desire to father. I would not know what to do with a child out here in the heart of the country, who would need milk and clothes and friends and schooling. I would fail in my duties, I would be the worst of fathers. Whereas it is not hard to live a life that consists merely of passing time. I am one of the fortunate ones who escape being called.

       But what use is such a character, especially in a novel where it is society itself that is frayed to near beyond repair ? To show that man can, indeed, be an island, that he can retreat and let the world collapse around him while he tries to tend his own garden (and, possibly, maintain some dignity in a truly undignified world) is surely not of much interest — and if that is the message to be portrayed, then would it not be more interesting to make the character a thinking man ? (Michael is not entirely thoughtless — he is slow, not stupid — but even in a society at peace he would be a marginal figure, and he would still not want to have children.) Life & Times of Michael K is meant to be about human dignity, and yet the character — in the way he and his life are described — bears more resemblance to a stray dog (or a saint) than any reader who would make his way through this book. Readers perhaps need not identify with the central character, but Coetzee appears to mean there to be a lesson to be learnt here, an example to be set — yet chooses a character none of his readers could hope to (or, probably, want to) emulate.
       Even Coetzee appears to tire of his limited character, switching to a first-person narrative when the doctor takes over the telling of the tale. A basically decent man, the doctor comes up against the brick wall that is Michael (or Michaels, as he knows him as). The doctor never really gets it, writing a letter to Michael(s) which he closes with what is a plea for the impossible: "I appeal to you, Michaels: yield !" Instead, of course, Michael flees. This is, perhaps, a society that can only be abandoned; living within it in any way is perhaps to be complicit — but that’s a hard, harsh lesson.
       Coetzee tells his simple story well. The book is full of ugly and sad scenes, and few glimmers of hope or beauty, but Coetzee presents his material fairly well. It’s the underlying message, and the aftertaste the book leaves, that is so unpleasant.
       Disturbing, and not in any good way.

Arte Poética – Jorge Luis Borges

Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
saber que nos perdemos como el río
y que los rostros pasan como el agua.

Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
de cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
de los días del hombre y de sus años,
convertir el ultraje de los años
en una música, un rumor y un símbolo,

ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
un triste oro, tal es la poesía
que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.

A veces en las tardes una cara
nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
el arte debe ser como ese espejo
que nos revela nuestra propia cara.

Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
de verde eternidad, no de prodigios.

También es como el río interminable
que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
y es otro, como el río interminable.

El Sueño – Jorge Luis Borges

Si el sueño fuera (como dicen) una
tregua, un puro reposo de la mente,
¿por qué, si te despiertan bruscamente,
sientes que te han robado una fortuna?

¿Por qué es tan triste madrugar? La hora
nos despoja de un don inconcebible,
tan íntimo que sólo es traducible
en un sopor que la vigilia dora

de sueños, que bien pueden ser reflejos
truncos de los tesoros de la sombra,
de un orbe intemporal que no se nombra

y que el día deforma en sus espejos.
¿Quién serás esta noche en el oscuro
sueño, del otro lado de su muro?

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