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Phony and Nice Worlds in Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut
Salinger expresses his view of the world through his use of "phony" and "nice" worlds. Salinger uses the "phony" and "nice" worlds to express his pessimistic view of the world. Although "phony" and "nice" worlds exist in many of Salinger's stories, "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" is perhaps the best story to illustrate the difference between "phony" and "nice" worlds. "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" is one of the few stories which offers views of both "phony" and "nice" worlds in relatively few pages.
The action of "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" takes place in the living room of the protagonist, Eloise. Eloise is reminiscing about her past with her friend Mary Jane. "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" is divided into three scenes. In the first scene, we see Eloise as she is; in the second, we learn what she has been in the past; in the third, we witness her sudden recognition of what has happened to her.
The contrasting worlds are epitomized in the title of the story. Uncle Wiggly is a reference to children's stories about a whimsical rabbit. Connecticut is the chosen gathering place of the phony Madison Avenue exurbanites (French 22).
The protagonist of "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut", Eloise, has experienced both the "phony" and the "nice" worlds. The "phony" world is the world into which we have the best view because Eloise is essentially living in a "phony" world. Eloise is stranded in a loveless marriage and uses alcohol to drink away her sorrows. Eloise's husband, Lew, is one of the Madison Avenue exurbanites and is a stark contrast to Eloise's first husband. Eloise is very critical of Lew and everything that he does. The phoniness of Connecticut has transformed Eloise from the nice woman she was to the cruel, pessimistic woman she is now. Eloise realizes how far she has fallen near the end of the story. Eloise has scolded her daughter and chastised the maid when she reaches her epiphany. Eloise asks her friend "I was a nice girl, wasn't I" (Nine Stories 38).
The "nice" world is now only a distant memory to Eloise. Eloise reflects happily about her time with her first husband, Walt. Walt was a GI, one of the Glass twins, and far from the egotistical Madison Avenue businessman (French 22). Eloise remarks that Walt was the only man who could make her laugh.
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The death of Walt precipitates Eloise's downfall. Walt dies in a random accident while in the army. Walt's death allows Salinger to comment on the world in which we live. Salinger explains why people are unable to stay in the "nice" world. Walt's tragic death symbolizes Salinger's strong belief that we are at the mercy of the chaotic forces of blind chance (French 42). Walt is not killed by his own misdeeds nor by the deliberate malice of society. Walt is killed merely because of some cruel twist of fate. This cruel fate destroys two lives simultaneously, as the death of Walt throws Eloise into the "phony" world which most of the world inhabits.
The use of "phony" and "nice" worlds is thus a powerful tool which Salinger uses to comment on society. Salinger believes that we are all subject to cruel twists of fate which could ruin our lives as it ruined the life of Eloise.
Another story which uses "phony" and "nice" worlds is "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." In the story, the protagonist, Seymour Glass, has a conversation with a young girl just prior to his suicide. This is very representative of the "phony" and "nice" worlds. During his conversation, the reader is not given a hint of Seymour's plans and thus the "nice" world is associated with children.