In Salinger's "Paula" there is the following passage:

"I so desperately want our baby born safely, darling. I’m afraid of falling. I’m afraid of a thousand things." Mrs. Hincher paused, suddenly squeezed her husband’s hand, as though some sharp, horrible image had come to frighten her mind’s eye. She continued, "Cars and trucks and things. I’m so afraid. And if I stay in bed I’ll be safe with my thoughts of you and baby."

The word "baby" sans the preceding definite article completely disarmed and waylaid Mr. Hincher’s heart. He replied to his wife in an exceedingly husky voice but with slight command in his voice.

I'm trying to figure out what exactly Mr. Hincher felt. So, first of all is "[t]he word "baby" sans the preceding definite article" a good or a bad thing? And what does "disarm and waylay one's heart" mean? My understanding is that Mr. Hincher felt totally defenseless and couldn't establish a counter argument. The thought of a baby was too dominant that he couldn't continue with the discussion. Is that correct?

1 Answer 1


By saying "baby" instead of "the baby" one is making the reference more personal. The baby is third person and is therefore impersonal. "The baby" could be any old baby. By saying "baby" without the definite article, the reference is now to a particular baby - specifically his baby.

The conversation may have marked the first time that Mr. Hincher assimilated the fact that he is about to become a father. A lot of parents go through this experience, especially with their first child, where the reality of becoming a parent sets in. The passage describes, I believe, the emotional impact of this realization.

"Disarmed" used in this way is not to imply that Mr. Hincher felt defenseless. Rather, it is used to convey the change in his emotional state. Before his realization, he may have been reserved or guarded emotionally. After realizing he is about to become a father, this emotional wall drops. He is disarmed in the sense that he is no longer able to deny his emotional reaction to the situation.

Similarly, he is "waylaid" insofar as he has been stopped from proceeding as before, and has been forced to re-examine his feelings.

  • Thanks for the clarification. So is it correct that Mr. Hincher feels defenseless? Could you also comment on that in your response so that I can mark it as the answer?
    – some user
    Dec 25, 2013 at 15:22
  • No, I don't think he feels generally defenseless; that is usually associated with feeling frightened. It is just that his defence against acknowledging his emotions has been breached.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 25, 2013 at 20:21

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