Love, Death, and War in J. D Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” J. D Salinger was best known for his portrayal of isolationism and the loss of innocence in his literary works. Like many Modern artists of the 1950’s, such as his good friend Ernest Hemmingway, Salinger was highly interested in reflection of the individual as well as the disconnectedness between adults and children (Calloway 3). In his short story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, Salinger uses the themes of love, death, and the war to reflect the emotional detachment between Eloise and her own life, as well as her relationships with her husband and daughter.
Eloise and her college roommate, Mary Jane are introduced to the reader at the same time, the beginning of the story. Both women have left college before finishing for reasons related to men. The setting for much of the plot resides within the living room of Eloise’s house. The language Salinger gives Eloise mirrors her critical and somewhat cold attitude. As the two women position themselves comfortable on the couch, they begin to discuss past classmates and relationships.
We are first introduced to Eloise’s relationship with her mother-in-law. Though the information regarding this relationship is brief, we are able to gather that they do not get along. “I don’t have one damn thing holy to wear. If Lew’s mother ever dies–ha, ha–she’ll probably leave me some old monogrammed icepick or something”. The manner in which she speaks about this reflects her carefree attitude. After Mary Jane attempts to inquire about the relationship between Eloise and her mother-in-law, the young woman quickly changes the subject.
As their conversation continues, involving other classmates and their husbands, they are interrupted by the introduction of Ramona, Eloise’s young daughter. Salinger wastes no time in feeding the reader the relationship, or lack thereof, that Eloise has with her daughter. Upon Ramona’s entrance into the house, she commands her to go into the kitchen so that Grace, the servant can help her take off her goulashes. “Ramona,” Eloise shouted, with her eyes shut, “go out in the kitchen and let Grace take your galoshes off “(Salinger).
It seems as though Mary Jane is more excited to see the young girl then her own mother is. Eloise does not ask to see the girl, nor speak to her, and the reader is unaware of where the girl might be coming from and how long she was out. This clues us into Eloise’s detachment from Ramona. Upon sending Ramona to be tended to by Grace, she shifts the focus back to the alcoholic beverage, which serves as a plot device and focal point throughout much of the story(Witalec). Mary Jane begins, after insisting that she does not need another drink, to inquire about Lew, Eloise’s husband.
Eloise gives critical replies about how their child looks nothing like her, and how Ramona, Lew, and her mother-in-law could pass for triplets. The fact that she is separating herself from her family, in such an outright and obvious manner, exemplifies the disconnectedness that Salinger uses in much of his work. Surprisingly, when Mary Jane asks for a kiss, Ramona quickly replies “I don’t like to give kisses” (Salinger). This could be seen as a result of the lack of affection that the young girl is missing, the same way Eloise seems to lack affection.
Also, the fact that she has conceived an imaginary friend, Jimmy, who is lacking both a mother and a father, could be comparable to the lack of emotional involvement she might experience from both parents(Smith 639). However, the young girl exhibits a type of love for her imaginary friend, and Eloise seems to be critical of the confidence that her daughter places in Jimmy “”You just think so. I get it all day long. Jimmy eats with her. Takes a bath with her. Sleeps with her. She sleeps way over to one side of the bed, so’s not to roll over and hurt him” (Salinger).
Eloise lacks this type of confidence and love in a partner within her life, which may be the result of her criticalness of her daughter and Jimmy. Again, Eloise slides the attention back to alcohol, insisting she refill Mary Jane’s glass and that she stay longer. As the story progresses, we are finally introduced to Eloise’s past love history. She abandons her critical nature and attitude when describing the man of her past, who made her laugh. “”He could do it when he talked to me. He could do it over the phone. He could even do it in a letter.
And the best thing about it was that he didn’t even try to be funny–he just was funny” (Salinger). The language she uses gives the reader the image of her lying on her couch as she reminisces about her past experiences with him. Salinger invites us into her emotional memory bank, and constructs the dialogue within this very scene in such a way that places Eloise mentally by herself remembering things that once made her happy, and making everything at that moment obsolete, in the same way a lover might recall their past love experiences (Smith 648).
It is at this very point within the plot that we become aware of not only her relationship with this other past man, but also where the name “Uncle Wiggily” was derived from. This name is of significance to her. However, her train of thought is interrupted by Mary Jane reminding Eloise of the current martial situation she’s in now, “‘Doesn’t Lew have a sense of humor’ Mary Jane said” (Salinger). Her response to the questions of her husband does not run as deep as the memories she has with the other man.
Quickly, she answers the question, again in her critical and sarcastic tone, almost as if disregarding she even has a husband. Again, she recalls moments her and her past love have shared together. “Eloise reflected a moment, and then said, “It wasn’t always what he said, but how he said it. You know”(Salinger). The fact that Salinger lets us in on these reflections from Eloise is again, emphasizing the connection she has with Walt and the memories, rather than obtaining the connections she should have with her husband. She mentions Lew as if he is insignificant.
This relationship lacks everything that she had with her past love. Her reasoning behind not telling her husband about him comes off more as an excuse so that he may never know her true feelings and the apparent loneliness she exhibits (Kennedy). She also refuses to answer seriously to the question of why she chose to marry Lew. The theme of war is then introduced, as Mary Jane presses Eloise to explain how Walt, her love, had been killed. Tension in the plot thickens because we are seeing the break down of Eloise’s character. War and lost love become pivotal elements in Eloise’s apparent unhappiness.
She begins to cry while explaining what had happen to him while he was away at War. Oddly enough, he was not killed while in action, instead in an incident involving a stove. As she told this story, she clutched the glass that was resting on her chest. Salinger swiftly incorporates the meaning of alcohol in her life once again, as her sort of comfort for the hurt she lives with. “She put her hand around the empty glass on her chest to steady it” (Salinger). As the story begins to conclude, the theme of lost or dead love is heightened when Ramona explains that Jimmy was killed.
Eloise, instead of showing sympathy towards Ramona, asks what happened and quickly commands the girl to be sent to her room. Secondly, Grace asks for her own husband to stay the night, being that the weather was frigid; Eloise denies her request, therefore separating the husband and wife for the night. While this love is not dead, Eloise is causing a physical disconnect between the two. She then goes into Ramona’s room where she sees the young girl laying on the bed, all the way at the edge, so that her new imaginary friend has room to sleep.
She attempts to separate the two by insisting that Ramona sleep the right way and physically grabs her ankles to position her to how she wants her to lay. It is in this very scene, after Eloise shuts off her daughter’s bedroom light, that the themes of love, death, and war completely break down the character of Eloise (Witalec). “She picked up Ramona’s glasses and, holding them in both hands, pressed them against her cheek. Tears rolled down her face, wetting the lenses. ‘Poor Uncle Wiggily,’ she said over and over again” (Salinger). Salinger brings the story to a closing by having Eloise kiss her daughter, and walk out of the room.
This is the first sign of affection from mother to daughter that we see. At the very end she seemed to confide in Mary Jane, asking her about a dress she had once worn. This has symbolism in itself, being that Eloise did not attempt to confide in her husband, we are unaware if he is even home or not by now. In a way, Mary Jane, who had been friends with Eloise for so long and knew her throughout her relationship with Walt, could serve as a type of connection left to the woman’s past memories, and that is why she returns to her at the end of the night (Kennedy).
Salinger clearly demonstrates the isolation Eloise displays within her relationship with her own husband and child. He gave Ramona two different confidants within the short period the story takes place, while Eloise cannot find the connection between herself and her own spouse (Witalec). The themes of love, death, and war all seem to consume Eloise, effecting how she reacts to the people who are supposed to be closest to her. Much of the feelings she felt were common among the society of post-war times, and Salinger successful illustrates this to the reader. Work Cited Calloway, Catherine. 15 Fiction: The 1930s to the 1960s. ” American Literary Scholarship (2002): 1-26. Project Muse. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. Kennedy, J. Gerald. Modern American Short Story Sequences: Composite Fictions and Fictive Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995 Salinger, J. D. “Uncle Wiggily in Conneticut. ” Nine Stories/ J. D. Salinger. New York : Bantam, 1989. Smith, Dominic. “Salinger’s Nine Stories: Fifty Years Later. ” The Antioch Review (2003): 639-649. JSTOR. Web. 16 Nov. 2010 Witalec, Janet. “Jerome David Salinger. ” 65 (2004): 290-339. Literature Criticism Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2010