J. D. Salinger was born and raised in Manhattan. His formative years were shaped by the philosophies of what is called The Lost Generation. These were a group of writers and artists that lived and worked in Europe after World War I and up to The Great Depression. While Salinger was too young to really be one of them (he was born in 1919), he was greatly influenced by their work – the hopelessness that came from witnessing “the war to end all wars.” These writers included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot, among others. Salinger in fact met and carried on a correspondence with Ernest Hemingway, whose writing particularly influenced him.
Salinger was drafted during World War II and served as an interrogator because he spoke French and German. He was involved in liberating a concentration camp. His experiences during the war caused a mental breakdown (we might call it PTSD today) and he was hospitalized for awhile because of this. He had some early relationship issues with women (like Holden), but eventually married when he was in his mid-30s.
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951, during the Cold War. His anti-hero, Holden, is a classic representation of the alienated adolescent and became insanely popular with young people growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Salinger became a recluse in his later life and stopped publishing stories in 1965.
Like many of his contemporaries, he became interested in different religions and became a Buddhist for awhile as well as a Christian Scientist and Scientologist. His life cannot really be described as happy – perhaps “searching” would be a better word. His alienation comes out as a theme in many of his writings and almost all of his stories, novellas and novels are about innocents, children. He died in 2010 in New Hampshire.
Saliinger is a really interesting and distinctive writer. He might even be more intense than Holden, which is saying something. The previous post did a very stellar job in describing Salinger. Yet, I think that you might want to examine the book, "Shoeless Joe," and the film, "Field of Dreams." In both, the writer that Ray meets is Salinger and I think it's really interesting to examine his impact and development post "Catcher." In both the fundamental question is asked in terms of what elements might have compelled him to stop writing and deny the world, and perhaps himself, his greatest talent. There is much in these examinations that might allow you to gain some insight and "see" into the mindset of the author. Since we have so little to go on in terms of who he was and in what elements he believed, I think that fictional explorations, though not to be taken as dogmatic, can help reveal much of the psyche and formation of the author and allow us to project a mental image of what he might have felt and in what he believed.