Jd Salinger Essay

J. D. Salinger 1919-

(Full name Jerome David Salinger) American novelist and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Salinger's career through 1992. See also Franny and Zooey Criticism, J. D. Salinger Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 1, 3.

Among the most celebrated and enigmatic twentieth-century American writers, Salinger is best known for his first and only published novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951), a defining portrait of adolescent angst and disillusionment in postwar American society. The novel's disaffected hero, Holden Caulfield, continues to speak to generations of young readers as an endearing icon of youthful cynicism and defiance against adult “phoniness” and conformity. Salinger is also acclaimed as a master of the short story form. His Glass family saga, an interrelated series of stories contained in Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction (1963), further established his popularity and spawned a proliferation of critical interest in his work—an “industry” of exegesis that Salinger sought to quell through his self-imposed exile.

Biographical Information

Born in New York City, Salinger is the second child of Sol Salinger, a prosperous Jewish importer, and Miriam Jillich Salinger, a gentile of Scotch-Irish descent. Raised in upscale Manhattan apartment buildings, Salinger attended New York public schools before enrolling at the exclusive McBurney School on the upper West Side in 1932. Recalled as an aloof, introspective, and academically unexceptional student, Salinger was subsequently sent to Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1936. While at Valley Forge, he contributed to the school's literary magazine, served as literary editor of his senior yearbook, and began to compose his first stories. In 1937 Salinger briefly attended New York University, then traveled to Europe where he studied the importing business in Vienna while continuing to write. Returning to the United States after the German invasion of Austria in 1938, Salinger briefly attended Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, leaving after only a single, unhappy semester. In 1939 he enrolled in an evening writing class taught by Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine and an influential literary mentor, at Columbia University. Burnett recognized Salinger's talent and arranged for the publication of his first short story, “The Young Folks,” in the March-April 1940 issue of Story. With his professional writing career newly established, Salinger began to place his pieces in magazines such as Esquire,Collier's,Saturday Evening Post,Mademoiselle,Good Housekeeping, and Cosmopolitan; Salinger later disavowed and refused to republish any of these stories. In 1941 The New Yorker accepted “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” a short story introducing Holden Caulfield. Salinger revised and delayed publication of this story until 1946. The short story, along with “I'm Crazy,” published by Collier's in 1945, would be incorporated into The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger was drafted into the army in 1942 and served until the end of World War II, during which he served as an interrogator in the Counter-Intelligence Corps and a participant in the D-Day offensive and the campaign to liberate France. He also continued to produce commercially viable short fiction for popular magazines. While hospitalized for battle stress, Salinger met a French doctor named Sylvia whom he married in September 1945. Little is known of this relationship which apparently ended in divorce shortly after his return to the United States the following year. Between 1946 and 1951 Salinger lived with his parents and devoted himself to writing, publishing a string of stories in The New Yorker that established him as a foremost “New York writer.” After the 1951 publication of The Catcher in the Rye, a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and bestseller, Salinger began to study Eastern religious philosophy, an abiding interest that significantly colored the tone and outlook of his subsequent short fiction. In 1953 Salinger moved to rural Cornish, New Hampshire, where he became romantically involved with Claire Douglas, a nineteen-year-old Radcliffe student whom he married in 1955 and with whom he has two children; they divorced in 1967. Repulsed by his literary celebrity and clamoring admirers, Salinger began to withdrawal into guarded seclusion during the mid-1950s. “Hapworth 16, 1924,” his final published work, appeared in The New Yorker in June 1965. He has published nothing since, though it is reported that he continues to write for his own enjoyment. Salinger has vigorously litigated against attempts to republish his work and against investigations into his personal life. He halted distribution of The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger (1974), a pirated two volume edition of his early magazine stories, and Ian Hamilton's 1988 biography In Search of J. D. Salinger, the latter on grounds of copyright infringement. Salinger's life and literary activity since the mid-1960s is shrouded in obscurity and speculation.

Major Works

Salinger's small body of mature fiction is unified by a preoccupation with several core themes: the despoliation of childhood innocence and integrity by insensitive, superficial adults; the longing for kinship and unconditional love amid the alienation and absurdity of modern life; and the quest for spiritual enlightenment in a vapid, materialistic world. The Catcher in the Rye portrays the emotional and physical deterioration of protagonist Holden Caulfield, a self-conscious sixteen-year-old whose idealistic resistance to the hypocrisy and immorality of his peers and the adult world results in his mounting estrangement. The first-person narrative, recounted from an unspecified psychiatric facility where Holden is convalescing after a nervous breakdown, describes his flight from Pencey preparatory school and his subsequent experiences in New York City shortly before Christmas. While at Pencey, Holden is repelled by the shallow, self-serving attitudes of his classmates, particularly Stradlater, whose sexual conquest of Jane Gallagher, a girl whom Holden regards with chaste affection, enrages and humiliates him. To avoid confronting his disapproving parents after leaving Pencey, Holden wanders about New York in search of meaning and companionship. His episodic rite of passage involves unsatisfying encounters with various acquaintances and strangers, including: a prostitute whom he solicits though refuses to employ, resulting in a beating by her pimp; a date with childhood friend Sally Hayes, who abandons Holden after angrily rejecting his wild suggestion that they run off together; and a brief respite with an admired teacher, Mr. Antolini, whose ambiguous late-night affection Holden reviles as a homosexual advance. The deceptively simple plot and Holden's colloquial banter belies the novel's thematic complexity and symbolism. Holden's conflict of conscience centers largely upon his desire to protect the young and vulnerable from the perils of what he understands as adult corruption, particularly in the form of inauthenticity. Holden's struggle to reconcile this with his inevitable maturation is intimately linked to his despair over the hostility and apathy of modern society. His naïve concern for the winter well-being of the ducks in Central Park and his exasperation at the ubiquitous presence of obscene graffiti signify his preoccupation with the preservation of innocence and integrity at both a personal and social level. The title of the novel refers to a Robert Burns lyric that Holden significantly misquotes and adopts as his personal motto. Holden's self-proclaimed “catcher” role, symbolized by the hunting cap that he wears backwards like a baseball catcher, is especially apparent in his relationship with his precocious younger sister Phoebe, whom he reveres and confides in. Likewise, Holden's resentment and feelings of guilt are linked to his inability to save his recently deceased younger brother, Allie, whose mortality exemplifies the inherent limitations and uncertainty of life against which Holden rebels.

Salinger's three subsequent collections consist of reprints of short stories originally published in The New Yorker.Nine Stories includes two of his most acclaimed—“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”—along with “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” “Just Before the War with the Eskimos,” “The Laughing Man,” “Down at the Dinghy,” “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” and “Teddy.” “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” involves a brief friendship between an American soldier and a charming English girl named Esmé whom he encounters during World War II. While later recovering from combat stress in a military hospital, the soldier, identified as Sergeant X, receives a package from Esmé containing a letter and her dead father's watch. Comforted by Esmé's affection, the soldier, also an aspiring writer, begins to recover and eventually repays her kindness by writing a story on her preferred subject—squalor. The influence of Zen Buddhism and Eastern spirituality permeates Nine Stories: “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” includes a Zen koan as its epigram; “De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period” features a painter whose sudden epiphany resembles a Zen Buddhist moment of enlightenment; and “Teddy” involves discussion of Vedantic reincarnation. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the first installment of the Glass family cycle, introduces Seymour Glass, the visionary elder sibling of the introspective clan that became the focus of Salinger's subsequent writings. This pivotal story relates Seymour's unhappy marriage to Muriel Fedder, his disavowal of material prosperity, and spiritual longing—ending abruptly with his tragic suicide. Franny and Zooey, Salinger's next publication, contains two companion stories that describe the psychic and spiritual dilemmas of Seymour's siblings after his mysterious death. In “Franny,” Seymour's youngest sister suffers a nervous breakdown while struggling to reconcile her carnal yearnings with her desire for spiritual purity, dramatized by her obsessive repetition of the “Jesus prayer.” In “Zooey,” a continuation of the previous story, Franny's older brother attempts to ameliorate Franny's crisis by identifying the egotism of her incantations and conveying Seymour's wisdom, a mixture of Zen principles and Christian mysticism. “Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters,” and “Seymour: An Introduction,” published together, are narrated by Salinger's fictional alter ego, Buddy Glass. “Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters” provides a meticulous record of events on June 4, 1942—the day of Seymour and Muriel's ill-fated wedding. When the bride and groom fail to arrive, opting to elope instead, the guests grow irritable and Buddy retreats to the bathroom where he reads Seymour's journal. Buddy's recollections establish the Glass family hierarchy—parents Les and Betty and children Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, twins Walt and Waker, Zooey, and Franny—and explain their veneration of Seymour. In “Seymour: An Introduction,” Buddy attempts to articulate the rarified character of his brooding, “artist-seer” brother Seymour and his motives for suicide. Experimental in form, the digressive story reveals the existence of an extraordinary collection of poems left by Seymour and Buddy's meditations on the literary enterprise itself, prompted by Seymour's advice that he write only what he wants to read—typically viewed as a telling insight into Salinger's own literary motivations. Salinger's final published story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” is presented as a lengthy and astonishingly precocious letter by seven-year-old Seymour to his parents, in which he relates his experiences at summer camp and prescient observations concerning the nature of existence.

Critical Reception

Salinger's lasting distinction rests largely upon the enormous popularity of The Catcher in the Rye, a perennial favorite that continues to exert an indelible influence on adolescent readers a half-century after its first publication. Though widely recognized as having attained the status of a literary “classic,” Salinger's novel has endured a history of censorship and is still banned by some public libraries, schools, and parents organizations for its profanity, sexual themes, and alleged antisocial message. Frequently compared to Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby,The Catcher in the Rye is distinguished among critics for having captured the mood and sensibility of its era. Many reviewers, reflecting upon their own first reading of the novel, continue to admire the striking candor, humor, and appeal of Salinger's protagonist, whose skepticism and alienation still strike a chord for many readers. Commentators consistently praise Salinger's command of colloquial diction, his effective use of symbolism, and his unusually perceptive evocation of adolescent experience. While some fault Holden's dogmatism and inability to develop an alternate vision to the social reality he denounces, others praise Salinger's compassionate portrayal of the hypocritical standards and behaviors that Holden himself unwittingly displays as a feckless, upper-middle class cynic. The promise of Salinger's first novel and the author's beguiling disappearance from the literary world continues to fuel critical conjecture and controversy. His short stories, particularly those of the Glass family cycle, remain at the center of critical debate and recent reconsideration of Salinger's literary prestige. While most commentators attest to Salinger's superior ability to fashion clever, well-crafted narratives, especially as contained in Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey, his subsequent stories are viewed by some as evidence of his declining powers. “Hapworth 16, 1924,” though praised by some as a daring, experimental work, has been dismissed by many critics as an implausible, self-indulgent story that reflects Salinger's contempt for his critics and a lack of desire, or inability, to communicate to his reader. Despite negative reaction to his later work, Salinger's oft-anthologized “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” are still acclaimed as consummate examples of postwar American short fiction.

Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 in New York City. His parents were Sol and Marie Salinger. He had an older sister named Doris. There is very little personal information about Salinger because of his insistence on protecting his privacy.

J. D. earned average grades in grade school. At age thirteen, Salinger was enrolled in the prestigious McBurney School in Manhattan, but he was dismissed with failing grades after a year. He graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy. This school was the model for The Catcher in the Rye's Pencey Prep. There he wrote his first stories. He attended Ursinus University in Pennsylvania, but dropped out in the middle of his first semester. He instead took a course in short story writing at Columbia.

In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the army. He was a member of the Fourth Army Division that made D-Day famous. After WWII, he was hospitalized in Germany for psychiatric treatment. While in Germany, he met one of his heroes, Ernest Hemingway. He returned to the U. S. in 1947.

In 1951, Salinger's only full-length novel was published. However, it was the work that made him famous, and still sells some 250,000 copies annually. The novel took its title from a line by Robert Burns, in which the protagonist Holden Caulfied misquoting it sees himself as a 'catcher in the rye' who must keep the world's children from falling off 'some crazy cliff'. The 'Catcher in the Rye' is a story of a sixteen-year-old hero-narrator Holden Caulfield. He is full of despair and loneliness because of the "phony" post war era in which he is living. Knowing that he is about to be expelled from prep school for poor grades, Holden decides to run away just before Christmas. He spends the next few days wandering in New York City, describing in a mixture of schoolboy slang and poetry, his feelings about himself, his family, the world that surrounds him, and his quest for the true, the good, the real, and the innocent. Holden is thought by many to be the most similar to the author.

In 1953, he moved to Cornish, New Hampshire into a cottage overlooking the Connecticut River. Here he allowed himself to be interviewed by sixteen-year-old Shirley Blaney for the New Hampshire Daily Eagle. When he first moved to New Hampshire, Salinger spent a lot of his spare time with local teenagers; it was in 1953 that he published 'Nine Stories', a collection of short stories introducing the Glass family. Salinger published three other stories containing the Glass family; 'Franny and Zooey'(1961), Raise High the Roof Beam(1963), and The Carpenters(1964).

On February 17, 1955, J. D. married Claire Douglas. 'Franny' was written for her as a wedding present. J. D. and Claire had two children, Matthew and Peggy. The couple divorced in 1967. Since the late 80s Salinger has been married to Colleen O'Neill.

Over the years, Salinger withdrew from the public eye. He always refused to sign autographs, give lectures, give interviews, never consented to be in 'Who's Who', and kept an unlisted phone number. To protect his privacy, he built a fence surrounding his house. One neighbor said, "You can only get as far as the garage. The only way to get to the house is by going through a 50-foot cement tunnel from the garage. The tunnel is patrolled by dogs, and the house is situated on a hill so he could see you coming for miles."

Because of J. D. Salinger's insistence on persevering his privacy and the willingness of his family and friends to assist him in doing so, little biographical information on Salinger is available, especially regarding his later life. Moreover, Salinger's habit of deliberately misleading would-be biographers with false information further complicates the picture; nevertheless, some elements of Salinger's biography are generally accepted as true.

Rumors spread from time to time, that Salinger will publish another novel, but from late 60's he has successfully avoided publicity. "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure," said Salinger in 1974 to a New York Times correspondent. However, according to Joyce Maynard, who was close to the author for a long time from the 1970s, Salinger still writes, but nobody is allowed to see the work.

Jerry Burt of Plainfield, N.H., who was friends with Salinger in the 1960s and lives near the author, told The Associated Press that Salinger said in 1978 that he'd written 15 or 16 other books. Burt said the books were apparently hidden in a walk-in safe in Salinger's home. During a visit, he saw the safe open, but said it was dark inside and he couldn't tell if there were any books. "He told me he had his finished manuscripts in there," Burt said. "I didn't see them. Who knows now? He may have burned them all. He may have published them under another name. He didn't have any idea at the time what he was going to do with them. J. D. loathes the corporate aspects of publishing. He has had his agents burn or throw away his correspondence.

Some of his works include 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish', which introduced Seymour Glass, who commits suicide; 'Franny and Zooey'; 'Raise the High Roof Beam'; 'Carpenters'; 'Seymour: An Introduction'; 'Nine Stories', and 'Hapworth 16, 1924'.

'The Catcher in the Rye', the only Salinger book that I have had the pleasure of reading, has been coated in controversy since it was banned in America after it's first publication. John Lennon's assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book the day that he murdered Lennon. Police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the psychologically disturbed Chapman. However, the book itself contains nothing that could be attributed with leading Chapman to act as he did. It could have been any book that he was reading the day he decided to kill John Lennon, and as a result of the fact that it was The Catcher in the Rye, a book describing a nervous breakdown, media speculated widely about the possible connection. This gave the book even more notoriety. So what is The Catcher in the Rye actually about?

Superficially, Catcher is story of a young man's expulsion from yet another school. Holden Caufield, a teenager growing up in 1950's New York, has been expelled from school for poor achievement once again. In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to 'take a vacation' before returning to his parents' inevitable wrath. Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden's thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he reveals a developing nervous breakdown, symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behavior.

However, during his psychological battle, life continues on around Holden as it always had, with the majority of people ignoring him. Progressively through the novel we are challenged to think about how society views each other. Does our society deliberately ignore our existence and ever-present sense of isolation? And if so, when Caufield begins to probe and investigate his own sense of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that the world is full of 'phonies' with each one out for their own phony gain, is Holden actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost it's mind for failing to acknowledge the hopelessness of their own lives?

Holden's hunting cap seems to be a symbol of his individuality and his "hunting" or searching for meaning in life. Though most people in his society would not wear such a cap because it was not fashionable, Holden wears it because it is useful, with padded earpads for the cold, and waterproofing for the rain. The cap was also used and not very expensive. This seems to indicate that he has not bought into the materialistic value of society. Though this gives him an individuality that he so desperately is searching for, it also alienates him. In the end Holden gives the hunting cap to his sister Phoebe. This seems to symbolize the passing on of something he has learned in his adolescence, something no school could ever teach him, the valuing of individuality. Because he loved his sister so much, he wanted her to become in individual herself, not just another phony in a phony society. He determines that he is the sensible one in the world. Many people can identify with Holden because we all feel in some way isolated. This is the basis for the story. The reader identifies with Holden because he/she feels isolated as well. However, Salinger makes us rethink our relation to Holden when he describes diagnosed condition.

The "Catcher in the Rye" is Holden's dream; it is what he wants to become. It is the guardian of innocence and the innocents. The "catcher" symbolizes Holden's belief that innocence is lost when one realizes the true "phoniness" of society. He wants to protect his sister and the other innocents from this phoniness. This idea is represented by the children playing in a field of rye on the edge on a cliff. Holden would be the guardian of the children, catching them if they were ever to fall off the edge. Holden's desire to be the "catcher in the rye" symbolizes his desire to establish a moral order, one that would transcend the false security of materialism. He wants to save his sister from this value of society.

Holden is similar to his creator, J. D. Salinger, in many ways. Salinger, like Holden, although very bright, had trouble with school. They were both kicked out of prep schools. Another way that Holden is like Salinger is that they both spent time in a mental institution. Holden is actually telling this story from inside of an institution. Holden and Salinger also both had sisters that they adored and respected. Holden's sister, Pheobe, is about the only person throughout the novel that he speaks very highly of.

Salinger's works often reflect his own life. In his celebrated story 'For Esme - With Love and Squalor' Salinger depicted a fatigued American soldier, who starts correspondence with a thirteen-year-old British girl, which helps him to get a grip of life again. Salinger himself was hospitalized for stress according to his biographer Ian Hamilton. Twenty stories published in Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and New Yorker between 1941 and 1948 appeared in 1974 in a pirated edition called 'The Complete Uncollected Stories of J.D. Salinger's. Many of the stories reflect Salinger's own service in the army. All of his characters, Holden, his family, the Glass family, etc. depict aspects of his own life. In an interview in 1974, referring to his life Salinger stated, "It's all in the books, all you have to do is read them."

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