Salinger, J(erome) D(avid) (Vol. 12)
J(erome) D(avid) Salinger 1919–
American novelist and short story writer. Salinger is recognized by critics and readers alike as one of the most popular and influential of contemporary writers. His only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, drew such great attention during the fifties and early sixties that those years have been called "the age of Holden Caulfield." The novel, in Ernest Jones's words, records "what every sensitive 16-year-old since Rousseau has felt." It has been banned even recently from a few libraries, schools, and bookstores for the starkness of its language and attitudes and the realism of some of its settings. Although Salinger has fallen out of critical favor of late because of his sentimentality, it is generally agreed that Catcher has yet to be surpassed in its portrayal of the pains and pleasures of a youth searching for love and direction. In all of his work Salinger draws upon the experience of his own life. For instance, his parents shared the same backgrounds as do those of his fictive Glass family. An undistinguished student, Salinger flunked out of private high school. His family sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy, the model for Catcher's Pencey Prep. Later, in a short story class at Columbia University, Salinger made a poor first impression on his instructor, Whit Burnett; however, at the end of the first semester he turned in his first manuscript, which was so polished that Burnett published it without changes in his Story magazine. While Salinger was in the Army, Ernest Hemingway once visited his unit and looked at some of his written work. When asked about its quality, Hemingway replied, "He's got a hell of a talent." In 1946 Collier's magazine published "I'm Crazy," which marked the literary debut of Holden Caulfield. Salinger became one of the major contributors of short stories to The New Yorker, which has since premiered all of his later works. After Catcher's popularity, Salinger withdrew from his audience. One reason given is that he has become a Zen Buddhist, since the precepts of that religion permeate so much of his fiction. Whatever the cause, his personal inscrutability has served to further popularize him among his admirers, creating a legendary aura around his name. To his series of young adult readers, Salinger's identification with and understanding of their situation has kept him relevant and appreciated for almost 30 years. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
ARTHUR HEISERMAN and JAMES E. MILLER, JR.
It is clear that J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye belongs to an ancient and honorable narrative tradition, perhaps the most profound in western fiction. The tradition is the central pattern of the epic and has been enriched by every tongue; for not only is it in itself exciting but also it provides the artist a framework upon which he may hang almost any fabric of events and characters.
It is, of course, the tradition of the Quest. (p. 129)
There are at least two sorts of quests, depending upon the object sought. [James Joyce's] Stephen Dedalus sought a reality uncontaminated by home, country, church; for … he knew that social institutions tend to force what is ingenious in a man into their own channels. He sought the opposite of security, for security was a cataract of the eye. Bloom [also in Joyce's Ulysses], on the other hand, was already an outcast and sought acceptance by an Ithaca and a Penelope which despised him. And, tragically enough, he also sought an Icarian son who had fled the very maze which he, Bloom, desired to enter. So the two kinds of quests, the one seeking acceptance and stability, the other precisely the opposite, differ significantly, and can cross only briefly to the drunken wonder of both heroes. (pp. 129-30)
American literature seems fascinated with the outcast, the person who defies traditions in order to arrive at some pristine knowledge, some...
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What meaning, if any, can one attach to the expression 'a key book of the present decade'? It is used as a blurb in a … reprint of [The Catcher in the Rye]…. Whoever remembers the book will suppose that this is a serious claim, implying perhaps that The Catcher, as well as being extremely successful, is a work of art existing in some more or less profound relationship with the 'spirit of the age.' It is, anyway, quite different from saying that No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a key book. On the other hand, there is an equally clear distinction between this book and such key novels as Ulysses or A Passage to India. For it is elementary that, although these books have been read by very large numbers of people, one may reasonably distinguish between a smaller, 'true' audience and bigger audiences which read them quite differently, and were formerly a fortuitous addition to the "highbrow' public. But although Salinger is certainly a 'highbrow' novelist, it would be unreal to speak of his audience, large though it is, as divided in this way. What we now have is a new reader who is not only common but pretty sharp. This new reader is also a pampered consumer, so that the goods supplied him rapidly grow obsolete: which may explain why I found The Catcher somewhat less enchanting on a second reading.
It is, of course, a book of extraordinary accomplishment; I don't know how one reviewer came to...
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No writer of recent years has captured the New Yorker market of Connecticut emigres the way J. D. Salinger has. From the defiant Holden Caulfield to the stoic Mrs. Glass all of his characters are strictly the contented-tormented people who inhabit New York City and its suburbs. But Salinger's importance in the school of younger writers comes from a moral awareness as well as a social perception. The hero in every Salinger story becomes a reflection of a moral code arising out of a cult of innocence, love, alienation, and finally redemption. These heroes form a particularly adolescent troupe of spiritual non-conformists, tough-minded and fragile, humorous and heartbreaking.
The basic predicament in Salinger's stories is that of a moral hero forced to compromise his integrity with a pragmatic society. What disaffiliates the hero is his peculiar off-center vision which sensitizes and distorts his sense of truth in a false world. As Salinger's talent develops, his hero's vision becomes his trademark, flowering in the extraordinary Glass family of Salinger's latest New Yorker stories. Moreover, the hero's misfitness in the modern world resolves as a moral problem rather than as the bitter fruit of a social injustice. If the significance of Salinger's emphasis on the moral right is kept in mind, then his recent embracing of Christian principles becomes less than surprising; if we are aware of them, there are indications all...
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It has only been in the past few years … that professional literary critics have taken Salinger under their microscopes for examination. Even this belated inspection has been not so much out of interest in his search as it has in him as a species held in high regard by "The Young Generation." Surely this is of interest, but to make it the most important thing in considering Salinger is to distort the meaning of his work.
Out of my own personal experience, which is that of a student of Columbia College in the early fifties who has spent the last several years in New York, I know that Salinger is indeed regarded highly by many young people. I have heard his work discussed among my friends and acquaintances more than any other contemporary author, and I have heard enough speculation about Salinger himself to feel that there is indeed a "Salinger Myth," as there was in the twenties, though in a different way, a "Fitzgerald Myth." Certainly any myth alive in our fact-smothered era is of interest, and this one perhaps especially since its nature is so extremely different from the twenties myth. The Fitzgerald myth had its hero in Gatsby-like parties and dunkings in the fountain at Union Square; the Salinger myth has its hero living in a cabin in the woods or going to Japan to study Zen. But in both cases the work of the man is of far more importance than the myth. Limiting Salinger's work to its interest as some kind of "document" that...
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The essential reality for [Salinger] subsists in personal relations, when people, however agonizingly, love one another. "I say," remarks Buddy Glass as he begins to tell us the story "Zooey," "that my current offering isn't a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it is a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated."
This is true of all Salinger's mature stories. Their subject is the power to love, pure and—in children and the childlike—simple, but in aware people, pure and complicated. Salinger's constant allusions to the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Ramakrishna, Chuang-tzu, and the rest are only efforts to find alternative ways of expressing what his stories are about. This power to love can be realized—and represented—most fully in complicated personal relations like those of the Glasses.
Salinger's conception of these relations is an impressive—and certainly unconscious—evidence of the way he fits into a major tradition of American literature, what might be called the effort to define The Good American. For this tradition, American experience creates a dilemma by encouraging the individual man to cultivate his perception to the limit according to his own lights and at the same time committing him to a society on which the majority has firmly imposed a well-meaning but imperceptive and uniform attitude. (p. 87)
The Glass children stand in this way at the...
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Last spring I taught a course in contemporary fiction at New York University. When I was drawing up the reading list, a veteran teacher whom I consulted mildly questioned the inclusion of J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." "It's the one book," he said "that every undergraduate in America has read." I think he was pretty nearly right about that, but, for my own sake, I'm glad I decided to teach the book. To most of my students, I discovered, Holden Caulfield meant more than Jake Barnes or Jay Gatsby or Augie March or any other character we encountered in the course, and in the discussion of the novel there was a sense of direct involvement such as I felt on no other occasion.
For the college generations of the Fifties, Salinger has the kind of importance that Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway had for the young people of the Twenties. He is not a public figure as they were; on the contrary, his zeal for privacy is phenomenal; but he is felt nevertheless as a presence, a significant and congenial presence. There are, I am convinced, millions of young Americans who feel closer to Salinger than to any other writer.
In the first place, he speaks their language. He not only speaks it; he shapes it, just as Hemingway influenced the speech of countless Americans in the Twenties. The talk of his characters is, so to speak, righter than right. The voice of Holden Caulfield is a voice we instantly recognize, and yet...
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Young people today have no spokesmen. (p. 156)
Ideology, heroism, success: none of these seems sufficiently compelling. For the young today, the importance and excitement of the adult world have become somewhat problematic. On the one hand this can lead to that odd combination of indifference and professionalism which one sometimes encounters in college students. On the other hand, it produces an earnest confusion, less often critical than nostalgic, which contemplates without enthusiasm or alternatives its possible maturity.
Some sense of this confusion and of the painful sincerity that goes with it is necessary in order to understand the phenomenon of J. D. Salinger, the writer most admired and read by many young people today. In one sense, Salinger represents the indulgence of a mood; but he is also the confidant of those who indulge the mood. Affectionate and tender, he speaks to the adolescent soul with urgent but reassuring intimacy. Yet he is also full of advice. He understands the ways in which growing up is a misfortune, a process of compromise and surrender. Reconciliation, however, and not resistance is his eventual concern: he is whimsical, all right, but not absurd. His opening theme is childhood lost, his conclusion is a half-mystic, half-sentimental resignation—with an ultimate glimpse of childhood regained. Finally, he is successful, appealing and comforting because he suggests a kind of...
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Carl F. Strauch
[In The Catcher in the Rye,] Salinger sharply accentuates the portrayal of Holden with a symbolic structure of language, motif, episode, and character; and when the complex patterns are discovered, the effect is to concentrate our scrutiny on a masterpiece that moves effortlessly on the colloquial surface and at the same time uncovers, with hypnotic compulsion, a psychological drama of unrelenting terror and final beauty. (p. 6)
Salinger has employed neurotic deterioration, symbolical death, spiritual awakening, and psychological self-cure as the inspiration and burden of an elaborate pattern—verbal, thematic, and episodic, that yields the meaning as the discursive examination of Holden's character and problem out of metaphoric context can never do. Structure is meaning.
As a start, the readiest way of understanding The Catcher lies in an awareness of the dualism or ambivalence of language, for Holden employs both the slob and the literate idiom…. Holden's slob speech is obviously justified as a realistic narrative device, since it is the idiom of the American male; yet from the psychological point of view, it becomes the boy's self-protective, verbalized acceptance of the slob values of his prep school contemporaries. He thus may justify himself in his overt being and may hope to secure immunity from attack and rationalize his "belonging"; slob language, therefore, hits off two important...
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Salinger's story, "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor," has been anthologized, selected as his best story, and in general accorded the high point of his as yet beginning career. And the attention that has been given to Esmé is warranted, for it juxtaposes in one story two of Salinger's major theses, love and squalor, in one of his favorite subjects, children: Esmé, the distillation of squalor, of people who are, according to the choir director in the story, "silly-billy parrots" if they sing without knowing the meaning of the words; and Charles, Esmé's five year old brother, the epitome of love. Not all critics agree, but I should like to suggest, contrary to some recent interpretations, that it is Charles, rather than Esmé, who is the key to the story. It is his riddle of what one wall says to another: "Meetcha at the corner," which is the nexus between Sergeant X and the world, and it is Charles's final, spontaneous, and insistent Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, affixed to the end of Esmé's letter, that brings Sergeant X's F-A-C-U-L-T-I-E-S back together.
The contrast between Charles and Esmé is the burden of the first half of the story. The second half, in which the I point-of-view is shifted to Sergeant X "so cunningly that even the cleverest reader will fail to recognize me," is the squalid or moving part of the story, and shows a projection of Esmé's squalor (lack of compassion, of affection) in Corporal Clay, his...
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Robert M. Browne
I'm for critical ingenuity and latitude of interpretation and all, but there is some stuff up with which I will not put. Like Mr. John Hermann's view of Salinger's Esmé [see excerpt above] as a symbol of squalor, of lack of compassion and affection. Mr. Hermann gets facts wrong, as when he says that Charles, "blushing but determined … risking embarrassment to show his friendship," comes back into the tearoom to kiss Sergeant X good-bye. In context it is obvious that Esmé has to "drag" and "push" Charles to get him to kiss the sergeant.
But more important, Mr. Hermann has committed two basic errors. One is to read the story in the light of a rather romantic preconception, the other is to neglect the role of the narrator. The romantic preconception is that love of truth, including statistics, makes one unable to love people. Since Esmé is a statistic-lover, she must be unable to love people…. But Esmé's love of truth is simply part of her admirable integrity. She is still child enough not to have lost wonder and curiosity; her intelligence has not been corrupted by wishful thinking (her cool appraisal of her mother, her refusal, which Mr. Hermann thinks abnormal, to pretend that her hair is curly when it's only wavy). True enough, her literalness is a trifle comic, but it is not morally disabling, as it might be in an adult.
In the tearoom Esmé approached X in part because her aunt had told her she was...
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Among the reasonably literate young and young in heart, [J. D. Salinger] is surely the most read and reread writer in America today, exerting a power over his readers which is in some ways extraliterary. Those readers expect him to teach them something, something that has nothing at all to do with fiction. Not only have his vague metaphysical hints been committed to rote by New Yorker readers from here to Dubuque, but his imaginary playmates, the Glass family, have achieved a kind of independent existence; I rather imagine that Salinger readers wish secretly that they could write letters to Franny and Zooey and their brother Buddy, and maybe even to Waker (who is a Jesuit and apparently less disturbed than his kin), much as people of less invincible urbanity write letters to the characters in As the World Turns and The Brighter Day.
What actually happens in Franny and Zooey … is really nothing much. (p. 233)
To anyone who has ever felt over-exposed to the world, to anyone who has ever harbored hatred in his or her heart toward droppers of names, writers of papers on Flaubert, toward eaters of frogs' legs, [Franny and Zooey] has a certain seductive lure; there is a kind of lulling charm in being assured in that dazzling Salinger prose, that one's raw nerves, one's urban hangover, one's very horridness, is really not horridness at all but instead a kind of dark night of the soul…....
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I am not sure why I have liked so much less this time through a story which moved me so deeply when I first read it in The New Yorker four or five years ago. I mean, of course, "Zooey," to which "Franny" is finally an appendage, like the long explanatory footnote on pages 52 and 53, the author's apologetic statement on the jacket, the pretentiously modest dedication: all the gimmicks, in short, which conceal neither from him nor from us the fact that he has not yet made of essentially novelistic material the novel it wants to become.
It was, I guess, the novel which "Zooey," along with a handful of earlier stories, seemed to promise to which I responded with initial enthusiasm: the fat chronicle of the Glass family which might have caught once and for all the pathos and silliness of middle-class, middle-brow intellectual aspiration—the sad and foolish dream that certain families, largely Jewish, dreamed for their children listening to the Quiz Kids perform on the radio two long decades ago. For the sake of that novel, Salinger seemed at the point of making a new start…. Certainly in "Zooey" Salinger had begun untypically to specify the times and circumstances of his characters: to furnish patiently the rooms through which they moved; to eschew slickness and sentimentality and easy jokes in favor of a style almost inept enough to guarantee honesty; to venture beyond an evocation of adolescent self-pity and adolescent concern...
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Salinger's conviction that our inner lives greatly matter peculiarly qualifies him to sing of an America where, for most of us, there seems little to do but to feel. Introversion, perhaps, has been forced upon history; an age of nuance, of ambiguous gestures and psychological jockeying on a national and private scale, is upon us, and Salinger's intense attention to gesture and intonation help make him, among the contemporaries, a uniquely pertinent literary artist. As Hemingway sought the words for things in motion, Salinger seeks the words for things transmuted into human subjectivity. His fiction, in its rather grim bravado, its humor, its morbidity, its wry but persistent hopefulness, matches the shape and tint of present American life. It pays the price, however, of becoming dangerously convoluted and static. A sense of composition is not among Salinger's strengths…. (pp. 53-4)
The Franny of "Franny" and the Franny of "Zooey" are not the same person. The heroine of "Franny" is a pretty college girl passing though a plausible moment of disgust….
The Franny of "Zooey," on the other hand, is Franny Glass, the youngest of the seven famous Glass children, all of whom have been in turn wondrously brilliant performers on a radio quiz program, "It's a Wise Child." (p. 54)
One wonders how a girl raised in a home where Buddhism and crisis theology were table talk could have postponed her own crisis so...
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[Can] a decade be labeled with the name of one writer? During the 1950s, Jerome David Salinger published his single novel to date, The Catcher in the Rye, and eight rather long stories—all but one of them connected at least thematically with the saga of a family named Glass…. This small body of work enjoyed a popularity unparalleled during the decade. (p. 23)
Salinger's significant writing was almost entirely confined to the 50s. (p. 24)
Certainly no writer has won a remotely similar place in American affections during the 60s; nor did any single writer so largely monopolize readers during any earlier decade. Because of the singular relationship between Salinger and the years of the "silent generation," it would seem that we might learn something about the feelings of the inarticulate youth of the period by examining the assumptions underlying the fiction of the writer that most attracted them.
First, though, we must bear in mind that Salinger was not universally acclaimed during the 50s. His works have always polarized opinion. The Catcher in the Rye was widely denounced and rejected. Older critics dismissed it impatiently; school boards and self-appointed professional moralists objected to its colloquial style and obscene language. Although some older readers had the perceptiveness to admire Salinger, his novel appealed principally to high school and college students; and he is...
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CAROL and RICHARD OHMANN
Holden's sensitivity is the heart of [The Catcher in the Rye]; that which animates the story and makes it compelling. Events are laden with affect for Holden. He cannot speak of an experience for long in a neutral way, apart from judgment and feeling. And of course those judgments and feelings are largely negative. Not so entirely negative as Phoebe says—"You don't like anything that's happening"—but this novel is first the story of a young man so displeased with himself and with much of the world around him that his strongest impulse is to leave, break loose, move on. From his pain follows rejection and retreat.
But what exactly is it that puts Holden out of sorts with his life? What does he reject? The critics answer [with] phrases that universalize: an immoral world, the inhumanity of the world, the adult world, the predicament of modern life, the human condition, the facts of life, evil. As we see it, the leap is too quick and too long. Holden lives in a time and place, and these provide the material against which his particular adolescent sensibility reacts.
Holden has many ways of condemning, and an ample lexicon to render his judgments. Some people are bastards, others jerks. The way they act makes you want to puke. What they do and say, can be—in Holden's favorite adjectives—depressing, corny, dopey, crumby, screwed-up, boring, phony. "Phony" is probably Holden's most frequent term of...
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GERALDINE De LUCA
[One] can say, in dubious celebration of Salinger, that The Catcher in the Rye is the one book that the adolescent novel comes from. It is a difficult, deceptive heritage; satirical and ostensibly designed to offer a clearer mode of life and thought than that which the heroes witness. But certainly in Salinger's case …, there really are no alternatives. One's only salvation is to remain a child.
Even in his works about the Glass Family, where he has turned to the adult world, Salinger is still celebrating childhood. While the Glass family can get quickly under one's skin, the books ultimately do not satisfy because the characters never quite get past what Zooey himself termed their "tenth-rate nervous breakdowns," never accepting or confronting the ills of the adult world that so oppress them. They remain Salinger's children, sanctified and damaged by their sensibilities.
In all of Salinger's work, children alone offer solace to his tormented characters: twelve-year-old Esme is the only one of the narrator/Sergeant X's correspondents who can help him; Seymour Glass, the oldest of the Glass family children, now unhappily married, has a sad tryst in the ocean at Miami Beach with a little girl named Sybil before he blows his brains out. The family reminisces about Franny sitting in the kitchen as a child, having a small glass of milk with Jesus. And of course there is Holden's younger sister Phoebe, dressed in...
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This is 1979, and it has been twenty-eight years since Holden Caulfield dragged his deer-hunting cap and his prep-school heart through Manhattan. But J. D. Salinger's ideas on the true and the false in American culture, his religious solutions to the crises of alienation and isolation, and his overriding sentimentality may have had more impact on the American brainscape than anyone yet has taken into account. Since the publication of a long story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," in The New Yorker in 1965, Salinger has maintained a silence that has turned him into the Howard Hughes of American literature. But Salinger's lasting significance has not declined. The startling thing for many of us to realize is that the confidential ravings of Holden Caulfield, the enigma of Seymour Glass's suicide, and the pathetic pragmatism of the Jesus Prayer embraced by Franny Glass, remain part of our consciousness—and it is not just simply nostalgia for that time in the 1950s and early 1960s when Salinger's characters provided just about the only voices that did not sound phony. As a whole new generation of readers indicates, the appeal of his work is enduring. His influence remains, and we cannot get around it, perhaps cannot get over it. (p. 1)
Looking back, one can now discern at least four phases in Salinger's career. His early stories generally portray characters who feel estranged and marooned because of World War II. His second phase is...
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