De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period by J.D. Salinger
In De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period by J.D. Salinger we have the theme of loneliness, isolation, identity, misrepresentation, reinvention, connection and escape. Taken from his Nine Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young man called Jean De Daumier-Smith, or at least that is the name that the narrator calls himself by. The fact that the reader never knows Jean’s real name may be significant as it suggests the idea of not only escape (from who Jean really is) but it also serves to highlight the possible idea of misrepresentation or reinvention. Jean appears to be uncomfortable with who he is and by changing his name it is possible that Salinger is allowing Jean to reinvent himself. The trigger for Jean wishing to reinvent himself appears to stem from the loneliness and isolation that he feels (possibly due to his mother’s death). By reinventing himself, Jean is able to escape from the painful realities (as he sees them) of the world around him. Jean is not the only person who reinvents himself in the story. His step-father, Bobby, also changed the course of his life after the crash of the stock markets in 1929, leaving behind his job as a ’dead stockbroker and incapacitated bon vivant’, to become a ‘unqualified agent-appraiser for a society of independent art galleries and fine arts museums.’
Salinger further explores the theme of escape. While travelling to Paris in 1930, the reader discovers that Jean spent some of his time, looking into the ‘stateroom mirror to note my (Jean’s) uncanny physical resemblance to El Greco.’ This line may be significant as not only does it highlight the idea of escape but it also suggestive of Jean wishing to reinvent himself as somebody else. Further incidents in the story which suggest the idea or theme of escape include Jean’s assertion in his letter to Monsieur Yoshoto at Les Amis Des Vieux Maîtres that he is a great-nephew of Honoré Daumier (painter). It may also be significant that when Jean is writing to Monsieur Yoshoto he also claims that he is ten years older than he actually is (misrepresenting himself). Not only does Jean claim to be a great-nephew of Daumier and to be twenty-nine but he also implies that he is a friend (oldest and dearest) of Pablo Picasso (not only misrepresenting himself but reinventing his past). The fact that Jean states that it was his wife who died (in his letter to Yoshoto) and not his mother may also be significant as not only does it serve to highlight Jean’s continued misrepresentation of himself but it also suggests that there is a deeper (at least for Jean) connection between Jean and his mother. Some critics have suggested that by claiming that his wife had died, rather than his mother, Salinger is exploring the Oedipus complex.
There are also several occasions in the story in whereby Salinger is making reference to the isolation that Jean feels. The game of musical chairs that Jean plays suggests that he is isolated from society (again possibly because he is yet to come to terms with his mother’s death). Also the Yoshotos speak Japanese to each other when they are communicating, which in turn the reader suspects leaves Jean isolated from the conversation. Salinger may also be using the symbolism of the orthopaedic appliance store to further emphasis Jean’s sense of isolation. On his first encounter of the store Salinger tells the reader that Jean feels as though he will ‘always at best be a visitor in a garden of enamel urinals and bedpans.’ This line is significant as it suggests that Jean is disconnected from the world around him or at least he feels disconnected (if not isolated) from the world around him.
Jean’s epiphany at the end of the story may also be significant. Having previously felt the need to correspond further with Sister Irma and go to the convent to visit her he changes his mind after seeing the young woman fall in the orthopaedic appliance store. It is through this incident that Jean realises that he must let Sister Irma go. Salinger telling the reader that Jean was ‘giving Sister Irma her freedom to follow her own destiny. Everybody is a nun.’ This line is significant as for the first time in the story Jean appears to realise that not only Sister Irma but everybody has the right to follow their own path (without his direction). The fact that Jean, while writing his letters to his students (reinstating them) sits down on a chair in his room for the first time may also be significant. Previously Salinger appeared to be using chairs to symbolise Jean’s isolation from people (and the world) now it would seem that Salinger is using the chair in Jean’s room to symbolise Jean’s reconnecting with the world. No longer does the reader sense that Jean will isolate himself anymore from the world around him, something that is made clearer to the reader by Jean’s re-enrolment in college and his continued correspondence with Bambi Kramer.