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.
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.
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.
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.
The Catcher in the Rye （novel） 1951
Nine Stories [published in England as For Esmé—With Love and Squalor and Other Stories] （short stories） 1953
Franny and Zooey （short stories） 1961
Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction （short stories） 1963
The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger 2 vols. （short stories） 1974
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SOURCE: “Salinger's Oasis of Innocence,” in The New Republic, September 18, 1961, pp. 22-3.
[In the following review, Marple offers a generally positive assessment of Franny and Zooey, but finds fault in Salinger's portrayal of women and “the inability of his adult characters to reconcile physical and spiritual love.”]
Salinger's first full length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, emerged after scattered fragments concerning his characters appeared during a seven year span. For some time now, it has been evident that Salinger's second novel may be developing in the same way. Salinger writes of Franny and Zooey: “Both stories are early,...
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SOURCE: “No Catcher in the Rye,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. IX, No. 4, Winter, 1963-1964, pp. 370-76.
[In the following essay, O'Hara examines the imagery of innocence and falling as expressed by the “catcher” theme in The Catcher in the Rye.]
The Catcher in the Rye has been read more widely and discussed more thoroughly than any other contemporary novel; teenagers, professors, and professional critics alike express their admiration for it. And yet in some ways it is an unsuccessful book, it would seem, since even now, some twelve years after its publication, scarcely anyone can be found to answer such simple questions as these: at the end of the...
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SOURCE: “Zen and Salinger,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. XII, No. 3, Autumn, 1966, pp. 313-24.
[In the following essay, the Goldsteins discuss the significance of Zen Buddhism as a means of liberation and enlightenment in Salinger's fiction.]
While it is true that Zen has become a glittering catchword as connotative as existentialism and at times as meaningless, the fact remains that Zen does exist and that Salinger has shown a definite partiality towards it. Since Zen recognizes that all boundaries are artificial, Salinger's Western experience is not outside the universe Zen encompasses. The importance of the present moment; the long search and struggle in...
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SOURCE: “Salinger Revisited,” in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 61-8.
[In the following essay, McSweeney offers a reevaluation of Salinger's fiction and critical reception. According to McSweeney, “The only work of Salinger's that has not shrunk with the passage of time is The Catcher in the Rye.”]
For anyone who was a literate North-American adolescent during the 1950s, it is probably difficult, even after fifteen or twenty years, to go beyond a personal estimate and/or historical estimate of the fiction of J. D. Salinger and attempt a ‘real’ estimate. The task will be especially difficult for those who were in those days...
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SOURCE: “In Memoriam: Allie Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye,” in Mosaic, Vol. XV, No. 1, Winter, 1982, pp. 129-40.
[In the following essay, Miller draws attention to Holden's conflict with his brother's death as a principal theme in The Catcher in the Rye.]
Although J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye deserves the affection and accolades it has received since its publication in 1951, whether it has been praised for the right reasons is debatable. Most critics have tended to accept Holden's evaluation of the world as phony, when in fact his attitudes are symptomatic of a serious psychological problem. Thus instead of treating the novel as a...
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SOURCE: “The Catcher in the Rye and All: Is the Age of Formative Books Over?,” in Georgia Review, Vol. XL, No. 4, Winter, 1986, pp. 953-67.
[In the following essay, Pinsker reflects upon the enduring popularity and cultural significance of The Catcher in the Rye and on the role of formative adolescent novels in contemporary American literature.]
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. … Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
I first read these...
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SOURCE: “Epilogue to ‘Seymour: An Introduction’: Salinger and the Crisis of Consciousness,” in J. D. Salinger, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, pp. 53-61.
[In the following essay, Schulz examines Salinger's artistic, psychological, and religious preoccupations, and the characterization of Buddy in “Seymour: An Introduction.”]
Salinger's imagination has begun to impose upon the reader. Like the initialed mystery of his name and the childish nicknames of the Glass children, his prose nowadays darkens more than illuminates, obscures more than enlightens. Despite the steady maturing of an incredibly skillful technique, Salinger finds...
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SOURCE: “J. D. Salinger's Holden and Seymour and the Spiritual Activist Hero,” in J. D. Salinger, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, pp. 63-79.
[In the following essay, Weinberg discusses post-Freudian criticism of Salinger's fiction and offers an analysis of Salinger's innovative literary techniques and the psychological and metaphysical motivations of his protagonists in The Catcher in the Ryeand “Seymour: An Introduction.”]
Mary McCarthy attacks J. D. Salinger's work as sentimental and narcissistic. One expects coolheadedness, tough-mindedness, from Miss McCarthy, and this is of course what she is giving her reader in assailing...
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SOURCE: “Sergeant X, Esmé, and the Meaning of Words,” in J. D. Salinger, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, pp. 111-18.
[In the following essay, Wenke examines the significance of failed communication and self-expression in “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor.”]
She went on to say that she wanted all her children to absorb the meaning of the words they sang, not just mouth them, like silly-billy parrots.
—“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor”
During a time when many writers are reconsidered, reconstructed, rediscovered, or revisited, the...
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SOURCE: “Salinger Then and Now,” in Commentary, Vol. 84, No. 3, September, 1987, pp. 61-4.
[In the following essay, Teachout provides an unflattering reevaluation of Salinger's fiction, literary career, and critical reception in the wake of Salinger's lawsuit against biographer Ian Hamilton.]
Even though he has published nothing since 1965, the books of J. D. Salinger remain popular. The Catcher in the Rye alone still sells some 250,000 copies worldwide each year. It has been a long time, however, since anyone worth listening to thought Salinger a first-rate writer, long enough that most of us have forgotten just how seriously he used to be taken by some of...
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SOURCE: “Holden Caulfield and American Protest,” in New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 77-95.
[In the following essay, Rowe examines Holden's quest for authenticity and meaning in The Catcher in the Rye, drawing attention to the novel's portrayal of rebellion and alienation in postwar American society and its thematic antecedents in American literature.]
On a gray winter afternoon Holden Caulfield, frozen to the quick by more than icy weather, crosses a country road and feels he is disappearing. This image of a bleak moral climate which destroys the soul is not only the keynote of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in...
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SOURCE: “Love and Death in The Catcher in the Rye,” in New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 97-114.
[In the following essay, Shaw offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Holden's social observations and mental state in The Catcher in the Rye, placing his actions and emotions in the context of “the peculiar patterns of adolescent crisis.”]
By the time The Catcher in the Rye appeared in 1951, the theme of the sensitive youth beleaguered by society was well established in the American novel. Reviewing Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms in 1948, Diana Trilling complained about the tendency...
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SOURCE: “‘If a Body Catch a Body’: The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Debate as Expression of Nuclear Culture,” in Popular Culture and Political Change in Modern America, edited by Ronald Edsforth and Larry Bennett, State University of New York Press, 1991, pp. 127-36.
[In the following essay, Steinle examines the censorship debate surrounding The Catcher in the Rye and the novel's portrayal of American ideals and postwar social reality. Steinle writes, “It is this fear of nuclear holocaust, not the fear of four-letter words, that I believe is at the heart of the Catcher debate.”]
In 1951, the American public was introduced to...
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SOURCE: “‘To Tell You the Truth …,’” in CLA Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, December, 1992, pp. 145-56.
[In the following essay, Mitchell examines the critical reception of The Catcher in the Rye and discusses Holden's problematic narrative perspective. “Holden's unreliability,” writes Mitchell, “forces us to question everything about the subject: Holden's view, society's view, our own view as readers.”]
To the uncritical reader, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye seems to be a deceptively predictable narrative. Book Review Digest does much to promote this idea as it condenses the plot into a few simple lines:...
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