November 5, 2009
English 298: Johnson
“Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”
In the short story, "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes", J.D. Salinger uses dialog to divulge
what the story is about and to characterize Joanie, Lee, and Arthur. Salinger uses direct and indirect
methods to describe and exemplify each character through the conversations between them. These
characterizations articulate what the story is really about: deceitfulness, weakness, betrayal and
power. “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” is narrated as phone conversations between Lee and
Arthur while Joanie listens as she lounges on the bed.
Arthur’s anxious, fast-paced dialog is
countered by Lee’s steady, paternal-like language.
This opposition in dialog reveals the underlying
lie that has tipped the balance between the two men.
Salinger uses the distinguished “gray haired”
(174) gentleman versus the unstable, explosive younger man to expose the truth. The three
characters are most powerfully characterized throughout the story by their dishonesty.
As the dialog progresses in the story the plot unfolds and the truth is revealed. The author
cleverly begins the story with a phone call from Arthur, an anxious and betrayed husband, to his
friend Lee, an older and wiser friend. Both Arthur and Lee are characterized through direct method
within their dishonest phone conversations. At the beginning and throughout the majority of the
story, the dialog between the two suggests that Lee, the paternal figure, holds the control. He speaks
in a measured, calm voice as he directs the flailing Arthur to “relax” (178) and to “sit tight” (178).
Salinger describes Lee as a “gray haired man” (174), thus stressing his old age and maturity.
Arthur’s voice, “stone dead and almost obscenely quickened for the occasion” (175), is contrasted
immediately with Lee’s strong, “resonant” (175) voice.
Initially, the dialog tells a simple story of a
weak, irrational man betrayed by his wife who seeks comfort and advice from an older, wiser
But, as the story develops and the dialog continues, the plot becomes more complex and the