Down at the Dinghy (Salinger)

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Down at the Dinghy
Summary of the Short Story
from the Collection «Nine Stories»
Microsummary: A young mother comforted her sensitive son who decided to run away after hearing a thoughtless comment from the family's maid. Using empathy and imagination, she helped him overcome his hurt feelings.

One afternoon, Boo Boo Tannenbaum, a young mother, tried to understand and comfort her son Lionel, who had decided to run away from home.

Boo Boo Tannenbaum — Lionel's mother; small, hipless, with styleless, colorless, brittle hair; caring, empathetic, imaginative.

Lionel was a sensitive and imaginative boy, deeply affected by the words of others.

Lionel Tannenbaum — young boy, around 4 years old; tanned, sun-bleached hair, big brown eyes; sensitive, imaginative, curious.

The family's maid, Sandra, had made a thoughtless comment that triggered Lionel's decision to run away.

Sandra — Tannenbaum family's maid; large waistline, discontented; thoughtless, gossipy, careless with words.

Sandra's friend, Mrs. Snell, a housekeeper, visited the Tannenbaum household and engaged in gossip with Sandra.

Mrs. Snell — housekeeper, friend of Sandra; wears a black felt hat with a Hattie Carnegie label; practical, curious, enjoys gossip.

Boo Boo found Lionel sitting in his father's dinghy, tied to the pier. She tried to engage him in conversation, but he refused to let her into the boat or tell her why he was running away. Boo Boo used her imagination to try to connect with her son, pretending to be an admiral and offering to share secret bugle calls with him if he would tell her why he was running away. Lionel eventually revealed that Sandra had called his father a derogatory term, which deeply upset him.

"Sandra--told Mrs. Smell--that Daddy's a big--sloppy--kike."

Boo Boo comforted Lionel and helped him understand that the comment was not as terrible as it seemed. She suggested they go to town to buy pickles and bread, eat the pickles in the car, and then go to the train station to pick up Lionel's father.

"Tell you what we'll do," she said. "We'll drive to town and get some pickles, and some bread, and we'll eat the pickles in the car, and then we'll go to the station and get Daddy."

Lionel agreed, and they raced back to the house together.

In the end, Boo Boo's empathy and understanding helped her son overcome his hurt feelings and find a way to move forward. The story highlights the importance of being sensitive to the feelings of others, especially children, and the power of empathy and imagination in helping to heal emotional wounds.