J. D. Salinger Essay - J. D. Salinger Long Fiction Analysis

J. D. Salinger Long Fiction Analysis

J. D. Salinger’s characters are always extremely sensitive young people who are trapped between two dimensions of the world: love and “squalor.” The central problem in most of his fiction is not finding a bridge between these two worlds but bringing some sort of indiscriminate love into the world of squalor: to find a haven where love can triumph and flourish. Some characters, such as the young, mixed-up Holden Caulfield, adopt indiscriminate love to aid them in their journey through the world of squalor, while others, such as Seymour Glass, achieve a sort of perfect love, or satori, and are destroyed, in Seymour’s case by a bullet through his head. Each of these characters is metropolitan in outlook and situation and is introverted: Their battles are private wars of spirit, not outward conflicts with society. The characters’ minds struggle to make sense of the dichotomy between love and squalor, often reaching a quiet peace and transcending their situation through a small act.

Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, in The Fiction of J. D. Salinger (1958), offer an analysis of Salinger that claims he is the first writer in Western fiction to present transcendental mysticism in a satiric mode, or simply to present religious ideas satirically. Although much has been made of Salinger’s Zen Buddhism, the stories do not seem to be about applying Buddhist principles to modern life, nor do they present a clear and coherent statement of what these principles entail or signify. Holden Caulfield does not react as a Buddhist would, nor does he seek consolation from Buddhism. The Glass family may mention Buddhism, but because of their acquaintance with all religions and their high intelligence and hyperkinetic thirst for knowledge, Salinger suggests that they have picked and chosen aspects from various religions and created a composite of them all. If anything, Salinger’s characters seem to move toward a “perfect” Christian ideology—indiscriminate love.

The normality of the characters in Salinger’s stories is a primary attraction for readers. Holden Caulfield is no better or no worse than any young high school boy; he is merely a bit more articulate and honest in his appraisals, more open with his feelings. Even though the Glasses are brilliant, they are not cerebral or distanced from the reader because of their brilliance; and all the characters live in the same world and environment as the readers do. Their moments of pain and delight are the same as the readers’, but Salinger’s characters articulate these moments more naturally and completely.

Another element that draws readers into Salinger’s world is his use of satire. The satire not only touches upon the characters’ descriptions and reactions to the world but also touches on the characters themselves. Holden Caulfield’s confrontation with Maurice, the brawny Edmont Hotel elevator operator-pimp, shows not only the ridiculousness of the antagonist but also Holden’s stupidity for attempting to reason with him. Even if he does not realize it, Holden does many of the things that he tells readers he hates. He is critical enough, however, to realize that these things are wrong.

All of Salinger’s work has also a strong focus on the family; it is held as an ideal, a refuge, and a raft of love amid a sea of squalor. Although the family does not provide the haven that Salinger suggests it might, it is through coming home that the characters flourish, not by running away. Holden, in The Catcher in the Rye, never realistically considers running away, for he realizes that flight cannot help him. At the critical moment his family may not be ready to grant him the salvation that he needs, but it is his only security. If the world is a place of squalor, perhaps it is only through perfect love within the family unit that an individual can find some kind of salvation. It is important to notice that the family unit is never satirized in Salinger’s fiction.

The Catcher in the Rye

The basic story of The Catcher in the Rye follows the adventures of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, an independent, self-indulgent, idealistic, and sentimental figure of adolescent rebellion, during a forty-eight-hour period after he has been expelled from Pencey Prep, the latest of three expulsions for Holden. After confrontations with some fellow students at Pencey, Holden goes to New York City, his hometown, to rest before facing his parents. During the trip he tries to renew some old acquaintances, attempts to woo three out-of-towners, hires a prostitute named Sunny, and copes with recurring headaches. Eventually, after two meetings with his younger sister, Phoebe, he returns home. At the beginning of the novel he has told readers that he is in California recovering from an illness and that he is reconciled with his family. The entire story of Holden’s exploits comes to us through a first-person narration, one that contains youthful phrasing and profanity and has many digressions, but one that has a mesmerizing flow to it.

Holden is a confused sixteen-year-old, no...

(The entire section is 2094 words.)