The connection between this piece of biography and Salinger’s refusal to be an American Jewish writer writing about Jews in America is impossible to fully sort out, of course, given Salinger’s reticence; we can only assume that it exists. But the refusal itself is what is significant. Geismar is acute to note it—but obtuse, I think, to condemn it. The “void” of which he speaks is a defining condition of Salinger’s art. The preternatural vividness of Salinger’s characters, our feeling that we have already met them, that they are portraits directly drawn from New York life, is an illusion. Salinger’s references to Central Park and Madison Avenue and Bonwit Teller, and the Manhattanish cadences of his characters’ speech, are like the false leads that give a detective story its suspense. In Salinger’s fiction we never really quite know where we are even as we constantly bump up against familiar landmarks. The Catcher in the Rye , though putatively set in an alien nighttime New York, evokes the familiar terrifying dark forest of fairy tales, through which the hero blunders until dawn. Near the end of “Zooey,” its hero picks up a glass paperweight from his mother’s desk, and shakes it to create a snowstorm around the snowman with a stovepipe hat within. So, we might say, Salinger creates the storms that whirl around his characters’ heads in the close, hermetically sealed world in which they live.
This lesson prepares the instructor--even at the college level--to teach Emerson. It provides important context, explanations, and glosses of Emerson's dense but famous essay. Emerson's work is challenging for students, even at the college level, because his writing does not appear to be transparent or follow the form of a logical, traditional argument. This lesson provides openings and important instruction into how to approach AND understand Emerson. It is designed in such a way that students (and professors/teachers) have the tools they need to engage with his philosophical ideas, as well as with his style and rhetoric. Indeed, this lesson makes Emerson relevant by requiring students to consider and then respond to the basic tenets of "Self-Reliance." The nod to Twitter in the activity is creative and fun. My only suggestion would be to consider in what ways Emerson and his ideas and work have come to occupy a hallowed space in American culture and the American literary imagination.