The Laughing Man

  • Added:
    Sep 28, 2012
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The Laughing Man is one of Salinger`s Nine Stories. This book was published in 1953 and it includes the following stories: A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, Just Before the War with the Eskimos, The Laughing Man, Down at the Dinghy, For Esme- with Love and Squalor, Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, De Daumier- Smith`s Blue Period and Teddy. Seven stories describe events that happen within the space of an afternoon or evening and they are written in the third person narrative form of writing. In For Esme- with Love and Squalor and The Laughing Man, Salinger uses a storytelling form.

The Laughing Man is a story in the traditional sense. It is also written in the first person and it gives the story a sense of directness, immediacy, truthfulness and authenticity. The author tells us the story through the eyes of a nine year-old boy who has limited awareness of adults` lives, of love and relationships. The narrator is remembering his boyhood, in the summer of 1928, when he was nine. He was a member of the “Comanches Club”, which consisted of a group of young boys who were driven around  in a school- bus by a NYU law student whose name was John Gedsudski. The boys called him “the Chief.” On  rainy days, the Chief and the kids used to go to a museum or some other public indoor place. On sunny days, they used to go to the park and play baseball or football. However, the narrator remembers most clearly the stories the Chief tells them before driving them home. These stories are about a fantastical creation of the Chief`s imagination- a mysterious character known as The Laughing Man. The Laughing Man was abducted at a young age by a group of Chinese bandits. His parents were missionaries in China and they didn`t pay ransom because of their religious beliefs. The bandits put the boy`s head in a carpenter`s vice and turned the screw. As a result the boy became a man with a hairless, hideous face. The bandits ordered him to wear a red poppy- petal mask. Animals were his only friends in the world and he talked to them whenever he could.

Suddenly, during baseball season a girl joins the Chief and the boys. Her name is Mary Hudson and she is really beautiful. On baseball field, she insists on joining the game. Though bad as an outfielder, she is adept at bat and a very fast runner. All the boys are happy to have her playing. One day, Mary has not appeared. Obviously nervous, the Chief starts up the bus and drives on. Then, at the park, the narrator notices Mary Hudson and he tells the Chief. The Chief goes over to speak to Mary. The narrator approaches the girl and asks her if she is going to play. She tells him to leave her alone. After a while the narrator notices that Mary is crying. The Chief goes over to speak with her again, but she runs off crying. Back on the bus, the Chief tells the boys his last story about The Laughing Man. He tells them that their hero is dead. The kids on the bus are shocked and speechless. The youngest one begins to cry.

It seems to me that the Chief`s stories are his attempt to explain his mixed feelings towards Mary Hudson. These fantastical tales assume his emotions towards her. The Laughing Man is a story within the story. We can read the story about young boy`s camp experiences and we can read the story about a young couple and their troubled relationship which is very mysterious to the narrator. But the main theme in The Laughing Man is about how the teller and his tale are inseparable.

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