J.D. Salinger’s Scout Knife


We know that Holden Caufield was a Boy Scout, if only briefly. And now, after rereading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey I can’t help but wonder which member of the Glass family was a Boy Scout too? There is only a fleeting reference to the scouts in the book’s latter section, and this insignificant detail is easily forgotten amidst the comic dialogue that probes the Glass family’s metaphysical quandaries.

The association with scouting, however, is not directly attached to any of the Glass family sons—not Zooey, Walker, Walt, Buddy, or the late Seymour either—but Mrs. Glass instead:

“She was wearing her usual at-home vesture—what her son Buddy called her pre-notification-of-death uniform. It consisted mostly of a hoary midnight-blue Japanese kimono. She almost invariably wore it throughout the apartment during the day. With its many occultish-looking folds, it served as a repository for the paraphernalia of a very heavy cigarette smoker and an amateur handyman; two oversized pockets had been added at the hips, and they usually contained two or three packs of cigarettes, several match folders, a screwdriver, a claw-end hammer, a Boy Scout knife that had once belonged to one of her sons, and an enamel faucet handle or two, plus an arrangement of screws, nails, hinges, and ball-bearing casters—all of which tended to make Mrs. Glass chink faintly as she moved about in her large apartment.”

The Boy Scout knife, inside Mrs. Glass’s pocket, connotes action and utility and purpose, but like every other object in the family’s apartment, the Boy Scout knife is also just another piece of the confused clutter, which comes to symbolize the emotional confusion shared by the Glass siblings. With the scout knife in her possession, although not knowing who it belongs too, Mrs. Glass appears ready to clean out the emotional and material mess, but just like her own children, she does not know how to begin.

My own scout knife recently reclaimed from the clutter, J.C.

My own scout knife recently reclaimed from the clutter, J.C.


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