J.D. Salinger Essay - Critical Essays

Salinger, J.D. (Literary Masters)

Introduction

J.D. Salinger

Chronology

1919: Jerome David Salinger is born on 1 January in New York City to Sol Salinger and Miriam (née Grace) Jillich Salinger. His only sibling is a sister, Doris, eight years his senior.
1930: During the summer Salinger attends Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine, where his acting skills are acknowledged.
1932: The Salinger family moves to 1113 Park Avenue. Having attended public schools on the Upper West Side, Salinger is now enrolled in the McBurney School, a private high school on West Sixty-fourth Street. He writes for the school newspaper, manages the fencing team, and continues to act, playing female roles for which his performances are praised. Salinger’s academic record is mediocre.
1934: After attending summer classes at the Manhasset School on Long Island in order to be eligible to return to McBurney, Salinger enrolls in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he has greater academic success. He is a member of the school’s dramatic club, Mask and Spurs, and shows a growing interest in writing fiction, reportedly writing stories at night in bed with the aid of a flashlight.
1936: Salinger graduates from Valley Forge. In his senior year he is the literary editor of the yearbook, Crossed Sabres, in which appear a song for the graduating class to which he wrote the lyrics and his tribute to the founder of the school, Col. Milton S. Baker.
1937: Salinger matriculates at Washington Square College of New York University, but his academic experience there is unsatis-factory, and he attends no more than a year. At his father’s suggestion, Salinger travels in the fall to Europe in order to improve his French and German and to learn more about his father’s trade, the ham- and cheese-importing business. Salinger continues to write stories during his European trip and submits them to magazines in the United States, but none of them are accepted for publication.
1938: In the spring Salinger returns to America. He attends Ursinus College, a liberal-arts school in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where he writes movie and theater reviews in a column titled “The Skipped Diploma” for The Ursinus Weekly, the college newspaper. Salinger stays no longer than one semester at Ursinus and returns to New York to live with his parents.
1939: Determined to focus his attention on writing, Salinger enrolls during the spring semester in a creative-writing class at Columbia University taught by Whit Burnett, the editor and cofounder of Story magazine.
1940: Salinger’s first published story, “The Young Folks,” appears in the March-April issue of Story. “Go See Eddie” is published in the University of Kansas City Review in December, after having been rejected by Esquire.
1941: Salinger is now being represented by a literary agent, Dorothy Olding, of the Harold Ober Agency. His stories appear for the first time in the “slicks,” well-paying commercial magazines with wide circulation. “The Hang of It” is published in Collier’s in July, and “The Heart of a Broken Story” appears in Esquire in September. The New Yorker accepts “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.” It is Salinger’s first story to be accepted by the magazine and the first to feature the character Holden Caulfield—later the protagonist of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)—but publication is delayed until 1946. Salinger volunteers for military service but receives a medical deferment because of a minor heart condition. He meets Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, and carries on a romantic relationship with her until 1942. (Oona subsequently becomes involved with the actor Charlie Chaplin and marries him in June 1943.)
1942: Salinger is reclassified by the military and drafted into the army. He sells “Paula” to Stag, but the story is never published. “The Hang of It” is reprinted in The Kit Book for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: Favorite Stories, Verses, and Cartoons for the Entertainment of Servicemen Everywhere, the first book publication of a Salinger story. On 27 April he reports to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and is assigned to duty with the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He applies for admission to Army Officer Candidate School but is rejected and sent to the Army Air Force Basic Flying School in Bainbridge, Georgia, where he serves as an instructor of aviation cadets. “The Long Debut of Lois Taggett” is published in the September-October issue of Story, and “Personal Notes on an Infantryman” appears in the 12 December Collier’s.
1943: In June, Salinger is transferred to Nashville, Tennessee, and promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. “The Varioni Brothers” is published in The Saturday Evening Post in July. Salinger is transferred to Patterson Field in Fairfield, Ohio, and performs public-relations work. He applies once more to Officer Candidate School but is again rejected. At the close of the year he is transferred to Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, Maryland, where he is trained as an agent in the Counter-intelligence Corps (CIC). Salinger’s orders come through by October.
1944: The Saturday Evening Post publishes Salinger’s “Both Parties Concerned” in February, “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” in April, and “The Last Day of the Last Furlough” in July. “Once a Week Won’t Kill You” appears in the November-December issue of Story. In March, Salinger is in Tiverton, Devon, England, to receive counterintelligence training. In the invasion of Normandy on 6 June he lands with the Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Division on Utah Beach and goes on to participate in five of the bloodiest campaigns of World War II. After the liberation of Paris in August, Salinger meets Ernest Hemingway.
1945: Salinger’s “Elaine” is published in the March-April issue of Story. “A Boy in France” appears in The Saturday Evening Post in March and “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise” in the October Esquire. In December Collier’s publishes “The Stranger” and “I’m Crazy,” which is Salinger’s first published story to feature Holden Caulfield. Salinger is discharged from the army in November. He marries a Frenchwoman named Sylvia and remains in Europe after signing a six-month contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. His duties are unknown but are probably related to denazification.
1946: Salinger returns to the United States with his wife, but she remains only briefly. After returning to France, Sylvia files for a divorce. Salinger completes a ninety-page novelette about Holden Caulfield that is accepted for publication, but he with-draws it from consideration. He agrees to Burnett’s request to publish a collection of his short stories, to be called The Young Folks. The book is supposed to be published by a Lippincott imprint, Story Press, but Lippincott rejects it. In December The New Yorker finally publishes “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.”
1947: In January, Salinger moves from Manhattan to Tarry town in Westchester County, New York. “A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All” is published in the May issue of Mademoiselle and “The Inverted Forest” in the December Cosmopolitan. Salinger moves to Stamford, Connecticut.
1948: Salinger’s first story featuring the character Seymour Glass, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” is published in The New Yorker in January. It earns him a first-reading contract, the terms of which require him to submit his new work there first, and marks the beginning of a long association with the magazine. The New Yorker also publishes “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” in March and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” in June. “A Girl I Knew” appears in the February issue of Good Housekeeping, and “Blue Melody” is published in the September Cosmopolitan.
1949: Salinger is living in Westport, Connecticut. The New Yorker publishes “The Laughing Man” in March, and “Down at the Dinghy” appears in the April issue of Harper’s. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “The Long Debut of Lois Taggett,” “A Girl I Knew,” and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” are reprinted in various fiction anthologies. Salinger has his first meeting with an editor concerning the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He gives a guest lecture at Sarah Lawrence College.
1950: On 21 January, Samuel Goldwyn Studios releases My Foolish Heart, a motion-picture adaptation of “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” Salinger is appalled by the screenplay and the sentimentality of the movie. “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is published in The New Yorker in April and is reprinted in Prize Stories of 1950: The O. Henry Awards. Salinger studies Advaita Vedanta (a school of Hindu philosophy) in New York.
1951: In May, Salinger sails for England to meet with Hamish Hamilton, who is to publish the British edition of The Catcher in the Rye in August. Salinger tours literary sites, including the Lake District, where William Wordsworth lived. In July The New Yorker publishes “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes.” The Catcher in the Rye is published in America by Little, Brown and Company on 16 July. It is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and Salinger gives an interview to author and New Yorker fiction editor William Maxwell for the Book-of-the-Month Club News. The novel reaches fourth place on the best-seller list of The New York Times. In December, Salinger attends the funeral of Harold Ross, the founding editor of The New Yorker.
1952: Salinger travels to Florida and Mexico. “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” is published in the May issue of the World Review in London, after having been rejected by The New Yorker. Salinger is named one of three distinguished alumni by Valley Forge Military Academy but does not attend the award ceremony.
1953: On New Year’s Day, Salinger moves to Cornish, New Hamp-shire, where he has bought a ninety-acre plot of land and a small house on the property. “Teddy” is published in The New Yorker in January. Salinger meets Claire Douglas, a student at Radcliffe College and daughter of the British art critic Robert Langton Douglas. A collection of some of Salinger’s short fiction, Nine Stories, is published by Little, Brown. It is published in England by Hamilton as For Esmé—with Love and Squalor, and Other Stories.
1955: In January the novella “Franny” is published in The New Yorker. Salinger and Claire are married on 17 February. Another novella, “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters,” is published in The New Yorker in November. The Salingers’ daughter, Margaret Ann (Peggy), is born on 10 December.
1957: The novella “Zooey” is published in The New Yorker in May.
1959: Salinger objects to the paperback edition of his story collection published in England by Harborough as For Esmé—with Love and Squalor because of the provocative cover illustration on the book. He severs his relationship with Hamilton. In the spring, while writing the novella “Seymour: An Introduction,” Salinger leaves Cornish and family distractions for New York. “Seymour: An Introduction” is published in The New Yorker in June. In December, Salinger writes to the New York Post protesting a law barring prisoners with life sentences from seeking parole. He denies Burnett’s request for permission to publish “The Young Man in the Stuffed Shirt” and “The Daughters of the Late Great Man” in Story, although he had earlier submitted them to Burnett for publication.
1960: The Salingers’ son, Matthew Robert, is born on 13 February. In Cornish, Salinger resists reporters’ repeated attempts to invade his private life.
1961: “Franny” and “Zooey” are published as Franny and Zooey by Little, Brown on 14 September. The book climbs onto the New York Times best-seller list, where it remains for six months and reaches number one.
1962: Salinger rejects Hamilton’s advance and offer to publish Franny and Zooey in England and accepts a smaller advance from another British publisher, William Heinemann, who brings out the book in June.
1963: “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction” are published by Little, Brown as Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Heine-mann publishes the book in England.
1965: Salinger rejects Burnett’s request to include one of his stories in Story Jubilee, an anthology of early works by well-known writers that had originally been published in Story. Salinger writes an introduction for the anthology, but Burnett does not use it because it focuses on Burnett rather than the Story authors. “Hapworth 16, 1924” is published in The New Yorker in June.
1967: Salinger and Claire divorce.
1968: Salinger takes his children on a vacation to England and Scotland during the spring.
1969: Salinger rejects a request from Burnett to include one of his stories in another anthology, This Is My Best in the Third Quarter of the Century (1970).
1972: After reading a cover story in The New York Times Magazine and seeing a photograph of the author, an eighteen-year-old Yale University student named Joyce Maynard, Salinger writes her several letters. Maynard moves into his house, but the relationship lasts for less than one year.
1974: Salinger breaks his long-held public silence after learning that an unauthorized, two-volume edition of his uncollected stories is being sold in San Francisco. He calls Lacey Fosburgh, a San Francisco-based writer for The New York Times, and an FBI investigation into the matter of the pirated edition ensues, but the persons responsible for the books are never found.
1975: Salinger contributes an epilogue, “A Salute to Whit Burnett, 1899-1972,” to Fiction Writer’s Handbook, in which he praises his former teacher’s ability to present writers’ works to students without diminishing the value of the works.
1976: Salinger attends a school play at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, in which his son, Matthew, performs.
1977: In July, Salinger travels by train to New York and makes a surprise appearance at a retirement dinner for an army colleague, John L. Keenan, who went on to serve as a chief of detectives in the New York Police Department.
1980: In June, Salinger meets with Betty Eppes, a reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate, and responds briefly to her questions. Eppes’s interview is published in The Advocate, The Boston Globe, and, during the following summer, The Paris Review.
1982: Salinger attends his daughter’s graduation at Brandeis University.
1986: A suit filed on Salinger’s behalf against booksellers who sold the unauthorized edition of his uncollected stories is settled in his favor. As biographer Ian Hamilton’s “J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life” is about to go to press, Salinger seeks a preliminary injunction to block publication, arguing that he has not authorized Hamilton’s use of quotations from his unpublished letters. In November, Judge Pierre N. Leval of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rules against the injunction. In December, Salinger petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
1987: Salinger’s appeal of Leval’s ruling is successful, and a preliminary injunction is granted. In September, Random House, Hamilton’s publisher, petitions the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a review of the lower-court decision. In October the Supreme Court denies the petition.
1988: Hamilton’s revised version of his biography, In Search of J. D. Salinger, is published.
1992: In October a fire destroys a major portion of Salinger’s house in Cornish. By this time he is married to a nurse named Colleen O’Neill.
1999: At a Sotheby’s auction in June, Maynard sells fourteen letters written to her by Salinger between 25 April 1972 and 17 August 1973. Computer software entrepreneur and art collector Peter Norton buys the letters for $156,500. Respecting Salinger’s privacy, Norton says that he will do with the letters whatever Salinger wishes—return them or destroy them. Salinger makes no public comment.
2000: Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, publishes Dream Catcher: A Memoir, providing an account of her family life and her relationship with her father.

About J. D. Salinger

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Salinger at Work

GETTING ESTABLISHED

In an author’s note for the publication of his story “Down at the Dinghy” in Harper’s in 1949, Salinger said, “I just started to write when I was eighteen or so and never stopped.”1 He took the most important step in his literary career when he was twenty and enrolled in Whit Burnett’s story-writing course at Columbia University in the spring of 1939. Salinger...

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Salinger’s Era

THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND THE PREWAR YEARS

During the first ten years of Salinger’s life as a child and schoolboy in New York, the American economy was enjoying a bull market that seemed to many as if it would have no end. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) Jay Gatsby’s houseguest...

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Salinger’s Works

SYNOPSES

BOOKS

The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.

The narrator, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, now recuperating in a psychiatric institution, tells the story of the “madman stuff”

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Salinger on Salinger

Salinger has refused to admit visitors to his grounds and home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and he has denied nearly all requests for interviews. Rarely has he answered letters or responded to inquiries of any kind. Furthermore, he has steadfastly prevented publication of his letters, always one of the best sources of information about any public figure. So extreme has Salinger been in observing a vow of silence with respect to his personal life that shortly after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, he began rejecting even his publisher’s requests for biographical material to be used in the promotion of his work. Those who have sought facts about Salinger or his opinions concerning his life and writing...

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Salinger as Studied

OTHER AUTHORS STUDIED WITH SALINGER

MARK TWAIN (1835-1910): Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), like The Catcher in the Rye, features a first-person narrator who speaks with a distinct voice in the American idiom. Both novels follow in the tradition of the quest narrative and provide strong criticism of American society. Alienated from their societies, Huck and Holden retain moral purity while affirming goodness and opposing whatever demeans other human beings. Both books present social indictments and attack hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Perhaps one of the most interesting comparisons between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The...

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Study Questions

  1. Critics in the 1950s and 1960s frequently compared Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, arguing that both novels were in the tradition of the quest narrative. In what way is Holden Caulfield’s journey a quest? What has he been seeking, and what have been the results of that search?
  2. In “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” the narrator points out that the first part of the story is about love and the second part about squalor. Why does the narrator shift from a first-person to a third-person point of view and refer to himself as Sergeant X in the squalor part of the story?
  3. Critics have noted that the last two...

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Bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

BOOKS

The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. London: Hamilton, 1951.

Franny and Zooey. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961. London: Heinemann, 1962.

Nine Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Published in England as For Esmé— with Love and Squalor, and Other Stories. London: Hamilton, 1953. Comprises “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” “Just...

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