Literature Study GuidesNine StoriesUncle Wiggily In Connecticut Summary

Nine Stories | Study Guide

J.D. Salinger

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Nine Stories | "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" | Summary

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Summary

Mary Jane, who has time off from work because her boss is laid up at home with a hernia, gets lost trying to navigate the commuter suburbs of New York and is two hours late for lunch with her friend and old college roommate, Eloise Wengler. Eloise informs her "cheerfully" that the whole lunch is burnt, but Mary Jane says she ate on the road.

The two friends settle into the living room, where they begin drinking highballs. Mary Jane, now divorced, left to marry an aviation cadet who was almost immediately arrested for stabbing a member of the military police, and Eloise "had been caught with a soldier in a closed elevator on the third floor of her residence hall." The story never makes it explicit, but the implication is she became pregnant during this encounter and that is the reason she married Lew Wengler.

At first their conversation sticks to casual gossip about women they knew in college. Eloise, whom Mary Jane describes as "hard as nails," takes a cynical view of everything, turning even serious subjects into jokes. Meanwhile, a snowstorm develops outside.

They are interrupted by the arrival home from school of Eloise's daughter, Ramona Wengler. Mary Jane, somewhat insincerely, expresses great interest in seeing the girl and inquires who in the family she looks like now. Eloise remarks that when her mother-in-law comes over, Ramona, Lew, and mother Wengler look like triplets. Ramona enters the living room with her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno, who has "no mommy and no daddy," "wears boots," and carries a sword. Eloise explains how irritating it is having to make room for a person who doesn't even exist, pointing out Ramona even sleeps on the edge of her bed so as not to roll over and hurt Jimmy.

As they drink more, the conversation turns serious. Eloise tells Mary Jane about Walt (a member of the Glass family readers of J. D. Salinger may recognize), a boy she loved before she married Lew. She gives examples of his sincerity, tenderness, and humor, such as the time she twisted her ankle running for the bus with him, and he called it "poor old Uncle Wiggily." Walt was killed during World War II (but not in active combat)—while packing a Japanese stove for an officer to take home, he died when the stove exploded. Eloise denies she is crying after she tells this story.

Ramona comes back from playing outside in the yard and announces Jimmy was run over by a car.

Later, Mary Jane is asleep on the couch when Lew calls to say he is stuck in the city and needs a ride, but Eloise says she can't meet him because her car is blocked in. Eloise finishes off the bottle of scotch and is sitting in the dark when Grace, the maid, turns on the dining room light. Grace asks if her husband can stay over because of the bad weather, but Eloise says no. She goes upstairs to check on Ramona, waking the little girl up when she sees she is sleeping on the far edge of the bed. Ramona says it is to protect "Mickey Mickeranno" (her new imaginary friend).

Eloise forces a shocked and frightened Ramona into the center of the bed, literally dragging her by the ankles. She then succumbs to a fit of weeping. Back downstairs, she begs Mary Jane to remember a scene from when she first came to college, wearing an unfashionable dress she bought in Boise: "'I was a nice girl,' she pleaded, 'wasn't I?'"

Analysis

Much like "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" resembles thematically, this story shows how a person can be trapped by a life of upper-middle-class prosperity and nonetheless suffer from intense alienation. Eloise Wengler was literally caught "in a closed elevator," and this moment changed her life. The only prospect for escape may have been divorce from Lew and marriage to Walt, but that avenue was closed forever with the senseless death of Walt. She is stuck in a loveless marriage with a family she dislikes and a child who doesn't even resemble her.

The telling of Walt's death is the climactic moment of the story, and it helps both to provide an explanation for Eloise's bitterness and cynicism and to frame the actions that follow. It is significant Walt died not while fighting—which would have been tragic yet expected—but while doing something mundane unrelated to fighting. The freak accident underscores how precarious and unpredictable life is.

The death theme is echoed in the casual death of Ramona Wengler's imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno, which directly follows the story of Walt's death. Eloise resents her daughter's innocence and the accommodations Ramona makes to keep her fantasy alive, as it is a constant reminder of Eloise's own lost innocence. Thus, she becomes furious when she sees Ramona can simply invent another fantasy to keep her innocence alive. That is why she forces her daughter into the center of the bed, to punish her for having hope Eloise no longer feels.

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