Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Although Salinger wrote only one novel and thirty-five stories, he attained a degree of international recognition and popularity that is unequaled by most twentieth century American authors.
Born in Manhattan, the setting (or focal point) for most of his best fiction, Jerome David Salinger was the second child and only son of Sol and Marie Jillich Salinger. His paternal grandfather, Simon, born in Lithuania, was at one time the rabbi for the Adath Jeshurun congregation in Louisville, Kentucky. His mother, reared a Christian, converted to Judaism upon marrying Sol and changed her name to Miriam. Salinger’s father, an importer of meat (hams from Poland in particular), was a highly successful businessman. The family lived on Riverside Drive during Salinger’s early years. The Salingers were not conventionally religious; the children were exposed primarily to the ideas of Ethical Culture. In 1930, young Salinger, or “Sonny” as he was called by his family, spent the summer at Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine (the probable source for the setting of his last published story).
Salinger attended Manhattan public schools until, at age thirteen, he was enrolled in the McBurney School, also in Manhattan, where he earned below-average grades but became manager of the fencing team and was elected sophomore class president in his second year there. In the fall of 1934, hoping for better academic performance from his son, Salinger’s father sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he participated in all the usual activities, was literary editor of the yearbook, and maintained about a B average.
After Salinger was graduated from Valley Forge in 1936, he attended the Washington Square campus of New York University. He took the following year off to travel with his father in Austria and Poland; while in Europe, Salinger learned German and familiarized himself with the family business. This experience led him back to academe, to Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1938. The columns that Salinger wrote for the Ursinus College newspaper reveal a very literary man most unhappy with college life. Salinger abruptly left Ursinus in December; his train voyage home to New York was perhaps the inspiration for a similar scene in The Catcher in the Rye (1951).
In the spring of 1938, Salinger enrolled in the Extension Division of Columbia University and attended Whit Burnett’s writing class. Within a year, his first story, “The Young Folks,” was published in Burnett’s Story magazine; another appeared in the University of Kansas City Review. In 1941, he cracked the slick magazines, with one story each in Collier’s and Esquire. Thereafter, for ten years or more, regardless of his life circumstances, Salinger regularly published stories in these and such other magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s, and The New Yorker. Several of Salinger’s stories, even some of those written as early as 1941, concern a young man named Holden Caulfield, who would become the hero of Salinger’s first and only novel, The Catcher in the Rye.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1942, Salinger was drafted into the United States Army, serving first in the Signal Corps and then later in the Counter-Intelligence Corps, where he was assigned to the Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Division. He sailed with the latter for England in January of 1944. On D-Day, Salinger, by then a staff sergeant, landed on Utah Beach with his regiment, five hours after the first assault. The fighting that Salinger witnessed provided the background for the story “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” (1950). In August of 1944, Salinger had a friendly meeting with Ernest Hemingway, in France. Until his discharge in the spring of 1946, Salinger’s duty was to interrogate captured German soldiers and French civilians. In 1945, he married a French psychiatrist, from whom he was divorced soon after.
For the next several years Salinger moved quite often; he lived first with his parents on Park Avenue, then in Westport, Connecticut, and finally in an apartment on East Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan—all the while writing stories, cruising around Greenwich Village in his sports car, and working on the final drafts of The Catcher in the Rye. This remarkable novel about the odyssey of a teenage boy spiritually lost in nighttime Manhattan was an immediate popular success. Salinger obligingly sat for interviewers and photographers. One particular picture of him—the one that appeared on the dust jacket of the first printing of The Catcher in the Rye (and frequently elsewhere)—became so well-known to the public that it became a kind of icon. It shows a handsome young man in three-quarters profile, with dark eyes in a slender and sensitive face and a mouth anticipating a possibly sad smile. The owner of this iconic face was six feet, two inches tall—and...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Jerome David Salinger was the second child—his sister, Doris, was born eight years before him—and only son of Sol and Miriam Jillich Salinger, a Jewish father and a Christian mother. His father was a successful importer of hams and cheeses. Salinger was a serious child who kept mostly to himself. His IQ test score was above average, and his grades, at public schools in the upper West Side of Manhattan, were in the “B” range. Socially, his experiences at summer camp were more successful than in the Manhattan public schools. At Camp Wigwam, in Harrison, Maine, he was voted at age eleven “the most popular actor of 1930.”
In 1934, Salinger entered Valley Forge Military Academy, in Pennsylvania, a school resembling Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger, however, was more successful at Valley Forge than Holden had been at Pencey, and in June, 1936, Valley Forge gave him his only diploma. He was literary editor of the Academy yearbook and wrote a poem that was set to music and sung at the school.
In 1937, he enrolled in summer school at New York University but left for Austria and Poland to try working in his father’s meat import business. In 1938, after returning to the United States, he briefly attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. There, he wrote a column, “Skipped Diploma,” which featured film reviews for the college newspaper. In 1939, he signed up for a short-story course at Columbia University, given by Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine. In 1940, his first short story, “The Young Folks,” was published in the March/April...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Jerome David Salinger was born in New York, New York, on January 1, 1919, the second child and only son of Sol and Miriam (Jillich) Salinger, although details on Salinger and his parents’ life is clouded. Salinger’s father was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been noted as being the son of a rabbi, but he drifted far enough away from orthodox Judaism to become a successful importer of hams and to marry a Gentile, the Scotch Irish Marie Jillich, who changed her name soon after to Miriam to fit in better with her husband’s family. During J. D.’s early years the Salingers moved several times, to increasingly affluent neighborhoods.
Salinger attended schools on Manhattan’s upper West Side, doing satisfactory work in all subjects except arithmetic. He probably spent most of his summers in New England camps like most sons of upper-middle-class New York families; he was voted the “most popular actor” in the summer of 1930 at Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine. When he reached high school age, he was placed in Manhattan’s famed McBurney School, a private institution, where he was manager of the fencing team, a reporter on the McBurnean, and an actor in two plays; however, he flunked out after one year. In September of 1934, his father enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania.
During his two years at Valley Forge, Salinger did satisfactory, but undistinguished, work. He belonged to the Glee Club, the Aviation Club, the French Club, the Noncommissioned Officers’ Club, and the Mask and Spur, a dramatic organization. He also served as literary editor of the yearbook, Crossed Sabres, during his senior year. He is credited with writing a three-stanza poetic tribute to the academy that has since been set to music and is sung by the cadets at their last formation before graduation. Although not yet the recluse that he would later become, Salinger began to write short stories at that time, usually working by flashlight under his blankets after “lights out.” Astonishingly, he also appeared interested in a career in the motion-picture business, as either a producer or a supplier of story material. He graduated in June of 1936.
It is unclear what Salinger did after graduation, but he enrolled at least for the summer session of 1937 at Washington Square College in New York. Salinger, in one of his rare interviews, mentioned that he spent some time in Vienna, Austria, and in Poland learning German and the details of the ham-importing business; it is not clear if his father accompanied him or not, but his trip probably occurred before Adolf Hitler’s Anschluss, possibly in the fall of 1937.
On his return to the United States, Salinger enrolled at Ursinus College, a coeducational institution sponsored by the Evangelical and Reformed Church at Collegeville, Pennsylvania, not far from Valley Forge. Although he remained only one semester, he wrote a humorous and critical column, “The Skipped Diploma,” for the Ursinus Weekly. He returned to New York and enrolled in Whit Burnett’s famous course in short-story writing at Columbia University. It has been noted that Burnett was not at first impressed with the quiet youth who made no comments in class and seemed more interested in playwriting. However, Salinger’s first story, “The Young Folks,” was impressive enough to be published in the March, 1940, issue of Story, edited by Burnett.
After publishing in a magazine famous for discovering new talent, Salinger spent another year writing without success until, at age twenty-two, he broke into the well-paying mass circulation magazines with a “short, short story” in Collier’s and a “satire” in Esquire; he even had a story accepted by The New Yorker, which delayed publication of “Slight Rebellion off Madison” until after World War II. This story proved to be one of the forerunners to The Catcher in the Rye.
During 1941, Salinger worked as an entertainer on the Swedish ocean liner MS Kungsholm. Upon his return to the United States, he wrote to the military adjunct at Valley Forge, Colonel Milton G. Baker, to see if there was some way that he could get into the service, even though he had been classified as 1-B because of a slight cardiac condition. After Selective Service standards were lowered in 1942, Salinger was inducted and attended the Officers, First Sergeants, and...
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The characters in J. D. Salinger’s fiction pursue a search for identity in a world often hostile to them; their creator has apparently found his own salvation in seclusion. Salinger grew up in New York City, attended private schools, and was publishing short fiction in his early twenties. World War II interrupted his career, and he served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945, participating in the D day invasion in Normandy, France, in 1944. In the next two decades, he would become perhaps the most famous, and most secluded, contemporary American writer. His best stories—such as “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”—appeared originally in The New Yorker and were collected in Nine Stories. During the following...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
As famous for his flight from fame as for the one novel and thirteen short fictions that he produced before retreating into silence, Jerome David Salinger (SAL-ihn-jur) gave voice to the rejection of materialism and regimentation that attracted the generation growing up in the United States after World War II. He was born in New York City on New Year’s Day, 1919, the son of a prosperous Jewish importer and his Scottish-Irish wife. From 1934 to 1936 he attended the Valley Forge Military Academy, a boarding school in Pennsylvania, which was to serve as the model for Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye. After brief stints at Ursinus College and New York University, he studied short-story writing at Columbia University...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Because of Salinger’s insistence on preserving 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, his 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.
Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on January 1, 1919, to a Jewish father, Sol Salinger, a successful importer of hams and cheeses, and a Christian mother, Miriam Jillich...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The stories of Salinger present complex characters—brilliant, sensitive, and prone to nervous breakdowns and suicide—struggling to retain a belief in innocence, goodness. and truth in an increasingly corrupt and artificial world. Through a combination of vividly realistic dialogue and meticulous description of personal characteristics and mannerisms, the characters in Salinger’s stories take on lives of their own and occupy permanent places in the minds of readers who come to know them.
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Although the known facts of his life are sparse and undramatic, J. D. Salinger’s influence on American youth since the 1950s has been profound. More than 40 years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, students are still sharing it with each other. This is remarkable, considering that there is scant mention of Salinger in current high school anthologies of American literature.
Young people find that he speaks to them with genuine understanding, as they grapple with the contradictions and mixed messages in society today. Moreover, his insights into the human condition, as experienced by adolescents, are just as valid for adults as they, too, cope with life in all of its complexities and compromises. Robert Coles, the prominent Harvard psychiatrist and literary essayist, describes Salinger as “an original and gifted writer, a marvelous entertainer, a man free of the slogans and clichés the rest of us fall prey to.”
J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger was born in New York City in 1919 to a Jewish father and a Scotch-Irish mother. There were two children: an older sister and himself. He was asked to leave several preparatory schools because of poor grades before finally graduating from Valley Forge Military Academy in 1936. Although he did not complete a degree, he attended several colleges. These included Columbia University, where he enrolled in a writing course taught by Whit Burnett, a well-respected teacher of young writers.
Salinger was first published in Story (1940), a highly regarded periodical established by Whit Burnett. In time, his short stories were published in Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and finally, The New Yorker, the magazine for which he wrote almost exclusively after 1948.
Salinger was drafted into the military in 1942 and was transferred to the Counter-Intelligence Corps in 1943. The following year he trained in England, joined the American Army’s Fourth Division, and landed at Utah Beach on D-Day. He then served in five European campaigns as Security Agent for the Twelfth Infantry Regiment.
Upon discharge from the army, Salinger returned to live with his parents in New York City. There followed a series of short stories until the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. The book was an instant best seller. His picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and he became a hero of college students across the country.
But Salinger did not find fame agreeable. With the success of The Catcher in the Rye, he moved out of New York City to Tarrytown, New York, then to Westport, Connecticut, and finally, in 1953, to Cornish, New Hampshire. From this point on, he avoided the public eye whenever possible.
Notwithstanding his reclusiveness, he met British-born Clair Douglas, who became his wife in 1955. There were two children during this marriage, a girl and a boy. The marriage ended in divorce in 1967.
Salinger’s output, following the success of The Catcher in the Rye, has been modest. There have been no additional novels published, only short stories. After Nine Stories (1953), his next book, Franny and Zooey, did not come out until 1961. This work consists of two lengthy short stories which are related and interdependent, concerning a crisis in the life of the youngest member of the fictional Glass family, Franny.
In 1963, Salinger published another Glass family story sequence, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Both stories center on the life and tragic death of Seymour Glass, as narrated by his brother Buddy Glass, who is frequently identified as Salinger’s alter-ego.
Careful readers of Salinger’s work will notice the influence of his interest in Zen Buddhism and Eastern religious literature in general. More and more, he came to view life as a religious quest for meaning. He felt that logic and intellectual discussion cannot lead to truth. Truth, according to Salinger, can be found only in the daily experience of life itself. The influence of Zen Buddhism and Eastern religions is particularly evident in his works after 1951.
While Salinger’s fictional characters have been tirelessly analyzed and discussed, the author himself has continued to remain a mystery. Since the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, he has avoided contact with the public, aggressively blocking attempts by those wishing to pry into his personal life. In 1987 he even went to court to prevent the publication of an unauthorized biography by Ian Hamilton. In his suit, he argued copyright infringement by Hamilton for quoting from Salinger’s private letters. In 1988, however, a revised version of the work was published, entitled In Search of J. D. Salinger.
As a result of his passion for privacy, Salinger has steadfastly refused to reveal details about his personal life. Many critics feel, however, that, in his fiction, he draws heavily on his own experiences, thus revealing more about himself than he may intend.
While Salinger’s writing is more substantial than the casual reader may observe, his appeal to both young people and adults remains strong. It is these characteristics—substance and popularity—which suggest that Salinger, indeed, may be an enduring figure in American literature.
IntroductionJ. D. Salinger is famous primarily for two things: his novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and his reclusive life. Catcher is a semiautobiographical account of its teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield. The novel’s first-person narration gave voice to a generation of frustrated young men who longed to escape the strictures of “proper” society. Although the work was an immediate popular success, Salinger has never penned another published novel. He did have success with several short stories, including “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” first published in The New Yorker in 1948. Success also followed with his collection Franny and Zooey in 1961. Despite his enormous acclaim, though, Salinger has rarely published after 1959 and has only granted an occasional interview, preferring a life of anonymity.
- Salinger’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a meat importer, sending his son to Austria to learn the trade. Salinger left Austria just one month before the country fell to Hitler.
- He served in the army during World War II, saw action in D-Day, was among the first American soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp, and interrogated prisoners of war as a counter-intelligence officer.
- The Catcher in the Rye was one of the most banned books and paradoxically one of the most taught books of the twentieth century.
- The character Holden Caulfield first appeared in the short story “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.”
- Salinger has been at various times a Zen Buddhist, a Christian Scientist, and a Scientologist.