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Vision’s Blind Reasoning in Salinger’s Teddy, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 794

Essay

We are conditioned to believe what our senses tell us.  As the “search engines” for our brain, they gather information about the world around us, and we process it to give meaning to the sounds, smells, and sights that bombard the psyche.  The senses are the fuel of reason, which orders all of these bits of information with rules or facts; the sky IS blue, water IS wet, etc.  However, when exploring the struggles of man’s inevitable spiritual journey, it can be argued that these truths limit the growth of the soul. In J.D. Salinger’s short story Teddy, the debate between logic and spirituality continues in the unlikely form of Teddy, a pre-teen who appears far wiser than his years. We see in Teddy the quest to discover more about who and what he is, and how difficult that journey is with the roadblocks of reason-plagued adults to stumble over.  Since they only see Teddy as a child – and therefore intellectually inferior – they deny themselves the opportunity to learn from him. Salinger’s character understands that while the senses ease the mind’s confusion about the world around it, he illustrates that reason only holds us back.

At first glance, Teddy appears to be – for the most part – a normal boy. To the adults around him, he is regarded in the same way any other boy would be:  a nuisance that needs to be constantly corralled. In the beginning of the story, Teddy’s father is insistent about getting him to stop looking through a porthole and to step off of a piece of luggage.  All that the father sees is a boy doing something that he shouldn’t be doing.  All the while, Teddy is using his incredible intellect to explain the idea of existence through his observation of orange peels floating in the ocean.

“I don’t mean it’s interesting that they float,” Teddy said. “It’s interesting that I know about them being there. If I hadn’t seen them … I wouldn’t be able to say that they even exist.”  This isn’t a thought that is widely accepted in the Western world at the time, and it’s clear that Teddy is influenced by some Buddhist philosophy. (Magana) In response, all his father says is “get off my bag” in a variety of ways.  He has made a judgment of Teddy in response to what he sees, and his logic prevails.

As Teddy discusses his viewpoints with Nicholson, he explains how easy and comforting this way of thinking is to most people, telling him  “most people don’t want to see things the way they are.”  Moreover, Teddy believes that there is a greater connectivity to everything, and that the rules that the senses give us are really just statements of relativity:  “… if you tell them the grass is green, it makes them start expecting the grass to look a certain way – your way – instead of some other way that may be just as good, and may be much better.”

A lot of the blame for this grip we hold on our senses can come from the work of philosopher Rene Descartes, who teaches that existence is proven by our thoughts.  The famous quote, “I think, therefore I am,” summarizes the idea that the mind cerates a view of the world – based on what the senses experience – and relieves itself from the chaos of not knowing. (Card)  On the other hand, Teddy sees this as being trapped in “finite dimensions,” a necessary evil that can bring order to the present.  But it is that order that stifles us, according to Teddy. He says, “ “Everybody just thinks things keep stopping off somewhere. They don’t ,,, [The] reason things seem to stop off somewhere is because that’s the only way most people know how to look at things. But that doesn’t mean they do.”

Salinger’s Teddy is a true challenge for the intellect.  The story presents the idea that no matter how much you learn about the world, it will pale in comparison to the knowledge that is gained from not trying to learn.  Although it can seem librating to imagine an existence without laws, rules, or term papers, it can be exhausting to always question and search for the connectivity between one another.  Our society is based on right and wrong, but in Teddy’s world there is only the journey to find a higher understanding.  While it may be impossible to deny the physical, we can move forward once we shed the finality of the world and open ourselves to discovery.

References 

Card, James. Descartes View of Sense Perception. Retrieved November 19, 2010 from http://jdcard.com/descar.htm

Magana, Tony.  Orange Peels and Apple-Eaters: Buddhism in J.D. Salinger’s Teddy Retrieved November 19, 2010 from  http://salinger.org/index.php?title=Orange_Peels_and_Apple-Eaters:_Buddhism_in_J.D._Salinger%27s_Teddy

Salinger, J.D. Teddy. Nine Stories. 1953

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