Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's gold, Jerry. Gold.

Today in class we were discussing the passage in Shoeless Joe when Ray Kinsella and J.D. Salinger arrive at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Ray introduces Salinger to the cashier:

"This is J.D. Salinger," I say, pointing to Jerry as if he were a trophy I was delivering.

"Yeah?" says the clerk, her face coming alive. "Really?" She looks at both of us for the first time, smiling.

"It's a pleasure to meet you." She extends her hand to Jerry. "You used to work for Kennedy, right?"

"Indeed I did," says Jerry, his eyes plashing across mine, mischief rearranging the kindly lines of his face. To keep from laughing, he turns away.

"Did I say something wrong? says the cashier.

"He was very fond of Jack," I reply.

Of course, none of the students got the joke, so I had to explain that the cashier had confused Jerry (as he prefers to be called, at least in the novel) for Pierre Salinger, JFK's press secretary. I explained that this was a literary technique called allusion, a reference made, usually indirectly, to a fact outside the text which the reader is simply expected to know. I gave another example, which I usually use; a line from the film A Few Good Men:

"Three cases in two years?! Who's she handling, the Rosenbergs?!"

I pointed out that if you don't know who the Rosenbergs are, you won't get the joke.

Inevitably, someone asked, "Who are the Rosenbergs?" I replied, "Look it up; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg." The next question ... wait for it ...

"Weren't they on I Love Lucy?"

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