J. D. Salinger Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 661 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 1818 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 twelve years he published only five more stories, all of them in The New Yorker. By that time, J. D. Salinger was hidden in the New Hampshire hills.

With the publication of his early postwar stories and The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger became a cult hero. Younger readers loved his depictions of their concerns. Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, particularly was widely admired. Older critics and reviewers struggled to understand the Salinger appeal. A 1961 cover story in Time magazine capped this period of his popularity. In 1953, Salinger moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he bought property and built himself a concrete blockhouse for his writing. He married in 1955, had two children, and was divorced in 1967. He continued to live in Cornish until his death in 2010, but contacted the outside world only rarely. His life remains a mystery.

The characters in Salinger’s short stories are in search of spiritual answers that they only occasionally find. Holden Caulfield is in rebellion against what he perceives as the hypocritical adult world, and he dreams of finding a cabin in the woods to which he may escape (as his creator did). Salinger has renounced the world his works question, and he has become one of the major puzzles of late twentieth century American literature. Like the lives of few other authors—Thomas Pynchon is another famous recluse—Salinger’s life remains a mystery, and his identity is tied to his seclusion.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 986 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 Salinger. He was the second of two children; his sister, Doris, was eight years his senior. Salinger...

(The entire section is 832 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Novels for Students)

Although the known facts of his life are sparse and undramatic, J. D. Salinger’s influence on American youth since the 1950s has been...

(The entire section is 843 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919, in New York City, the second child of Sol and Miriam Jillich Salinger. His father, of...

(The entire section is 709 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on New Year's Day, 1919. His father, Solomon, was a Jewish cheese importer who hoped that his...

(The entire section is 636 words.)