J. D. Salinger Salinger, J. D. - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.


(Literary Masters)

J.D. Salinger


1919: Jerome David Salinger is born on 1 January in New York City to Sol Salinger and Miriam (née Grace) Jillich Salinger. His only sibling is a sister, Doris, eight years his senior.
1930: During the summer Salinger attends Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine, where his acting skills are acknowledged.
1932: The Salinger family moves to 1113 Park Avenue. Having attended public schools on the Upper West Side, Salinger is now enrolled in the McBurney School, a private high school on West Sixty-fourth Street. He writes for the school newspaper, manages the fencing team, and continues to act, playing female roles for which his performances are praised. Salinger’s academic record is mediocre.
1934: After attending summer classes at the Manhasset School on Long Island in order to be eligible to return to McBurney, Salinger enrolls in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he has greater academic success. He is a member of the school’s dramatic club, Mask and Spurs, and shows a growing interest in writing fiction, reportedly writing stories at night in bed with the aid of a flashlight.
1936: Salinger graduates from Valley Forge. In his senior year he is the literary editor of the yearbook, Crossed Sabres, in which appear a song for the graduating class to which he wrote the lyrics and his tribute to the founder of the school, Col. Milton S. Baker.
1937: Salinger matriculates at Washington Square College of New York University, but his academic experience there is unsatis-factory, and he attends no more than a year. At his father’s suggestion, Salinger travels in the fall to Europe in order to improve his French and German and to learn more about his father’s trade, the ham- and cheese-importing business. Salinger continues to write stories during his European trip and submits them to magazines in the United States, but none of them are accepted for publication.
1938: In the spring Salinger returns to America. He attends Ursinus College, a liberal-arts school in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where he writes movie and theater reviews in a column titled “The Skipped Diploma” for The Ursinus Weekly, the college newspaper. Salinger stays no longer than one semester at Ursinus and returns to New York to live with his parents.
1939: Determined to focus his attention on writing, Salinger enrolls during the spring semester in a creative-writing class at Columbia University taught by Whit Burnett, the editor and cofounder of Story magazine.
1940: Salinger’s first published story, “The Young Folks,” appears in the March-April issue of Story. “Go See Eddie” is published in the University of Kansas City Review in December, after having been rejected by Esquire.
1941: Salinger is now being represented by a literary agent, Dorothy Olding, of the Harold Ober Agency. His stories appear for the first time in the “slicks,” well-paying commercial magazines with wide circulation. “The Hang of It” is published in Collier’s in July, and “The Heart of a Broken Story” appears in Esquire in September. The New Yorker accepts “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.” It is Salinger’s first story to be accepted by the magazine and the first to feature the character Holden Caulfield—later the protagonist of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)—but publication is delayed until 1946. Salinger volunteers for military service but receives a medical deferment because of a minor heart condition. He meets Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, and carries on a romantic relationship with her until 1942. (Oona subsequently becomes involved with the actor Charlie Chaplin and marries him in June 1943.)
1942: Salinger is reclassified by the military and drafted into the army. He sells “Paula” to Stag, but the story is never published. “The Hang of It” is reprinted in The Kit Book for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: Favorite Stories, Verses, and Cartoons for the Entertainment of Servicemen Everywhere, the first book publication of a Salinger story. On 27 April he reports to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and is assigned to duty with the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He applies for admission to Army Officer Candidate School but is rejected and sent to the Army Air Force Basic Flying School in Bainbridge, Georgia, where he serves as an instructor of aviation cadets. “The Long Debut of Lois Taggett” is published in the September-October issue of Story, and “Personal Notes on an Infantryman” appears in the 12 December Collier’s.
1943: In June, Salinger is transferred to Nashville, Tennessee, and promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. “The Varioni Brothers” is published in The Saturday Evening Post in July. Salinger is transferred to Patterson Field in Fairfield, Ohio, and performs public-relations work. He applies once more to Officer Candidate School but is again rejected. At the close of the year he is transferred to Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, Maryland, where he is trained as an agent in the Counter-intelligence Corps (CIC). Salinger’s orders come through by October.
1944: The Saturday Evening Post publishes Salinger’s “Both Parties Concerned” in February, “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” in April, and “The Last Day of the Last Furlough” in July. “Once a Week Won’t Kill You” appears in the November-December issue of Story. In March, Salinger is in Tiverton, Devon, England, to receive counterintelligence training. In the invasion of Normandy on 6 June he lands with the Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Division on Utah Beach and goes on to participate in five of the bloodiest campaigns of World War II. After the liberation of Paris in August, Salinger meets Ernest Hemingway.
1945: Salinger’s “Elaine” is published in the March-April issue of Story. “A Boy in France” appears in The Saturday Evening Post in March and “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise” in the October Esquire. In December Collier’s publishes “The Stranger” and “I’m Crazy,” which is Salinger’s first published story to feature Holden Caulfield. Salinger is discharged from the army in November. He marries a Frenchwoman named Sylvia and remains in Europe after signing a six-month contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. His duties are unknown but are probably related to denazification.
1946: Salinger returns to the United States with his wife, but she remains only briefly. After returning to France, Sylvia files for a divorce. Salinger completes a ninety-page novelette about Holden Caulfield that is accepted for publication, but he with-draws it from consideration. He agrees to Burnett’s request to publish a collection of his short stories, to be called The Young Folks. The book is supposed to be published by a Lippincott imprint, Story Press, but Lippincott rejects it. In December The New Yorker finally publishes “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.”
1947: In January, Salinger moves from Manhattan to Tarry town in Westchester County, New York. “A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All” is published in the May issue of Mademoiselle and “The Inverted Forest” in the December Cosmopolitan. Salinger moves to Stamford, Connecticut.
1948: Salinger’s first story featuring the character Seymour Glass, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” is published in The New Yorker in January. It earns him a first-reading contract, the terms of which require him to submit his new work there first, and marks the beginning of a long association with the magazine. The New Yorker also publishes “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” in March and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” in June. “A Girl I Knew” appears in the February issue of Good Housekeeping, and “Blue Melody” is published in the September Cosmopolitan.
1949: Salinger is living in Westport, Connecticut. The New Yorker publishes “The Laughing Man” in March, and “Down at the Dinghy” appears in the April issue of Harper’s. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “The Long Debut of Lois Taggett,” “A Girl I Knew,” and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” are reprinted in various fiction anthologies. Salinger has his first meeting with an editor concerning the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He gives a guest lecture at Sarah Lawrence College.
1950: On 21 January, Samuel Goldwyn Studios releases My Foolish Heart, a motion-picture adaptation of “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” Salinger is appalled by the screenplay and the sentimentality of the movie. “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is published in The New Yorker in April and is reprinted in Prize Stories of 1950: The O. Henry Awards. Salinger studies Advaita Vedanta (a school of Hindu philosophy) in New York.
1951: In May, Salinger sails for England to meet with Hamish Hamilton, who is to publish the British edition of The Catcher in the Rye in August. Salinger tours literary sites, including the Lake District, where William Wordsworth lived. In July The New Yorker publishes “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes.” The Catcher in the Rye is published in America by Little, Brown and Company on 16 July. It is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and Salinger gives an interview to author and New Yorker fiction editor William Maxwell for the Book-of-the-Month Club News. The novel reaches fourth place on the best-seller list of The New York Times. In December, Salinger attends the funeral of Harold Ross, the founding editor of The New Yorker.
1952: Salinger travels to Florida and Mexico. “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” is published in the May issue of the World Review in London, after having been rejected by The New Yorker. Salinger is named one of three distinguished alumni by Valley Forge Military Academy but does not attend the award ceremony.
1953: On New Year’s Day, Salinger moves to Cornish, New Hamp-shire, where he has bought a ninety-acre plot of land and a small house on the property. “Teddy” is published in The New Yorker in January. Salinger meets Claire Douglas, a student at Radcliffe College and daughter of the British art critic Robert Langton Douglas. A collection of some of Salinger’s short fiction, Nine Stories, is published by Little, Brown. It is published in England by Hamilton as For Esmé—with Love and Squalor, and Other Stories.
1955: In January the novella “Franny” is published in The New Yorker. Salinger and Claire are married on 17 February. Another novella, “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters,” is published in The New Yorker in November. The Salingers’ daughter, Margaret Ann (Peggy), is born on 10 December.
1957: The novella “Zooey” is published in The New Yorker in May.
1959: Salinger objects to the paperback edition of his story collection published in England by Harborough as For Esmé—with Love and Squalor because of the provocative cover illustration on the book. He severs his relationship with Hamilton. In the spring, while writing the novella “Seymour: An Introduction,” Salinger leaves Cornish and family distractions for New York. “Seymour: An Introduction” is published in The New Yorker in June. In December, Salinger writes to the New York Post protesting a law barring prisoners with life sentences from seeking parole. He denies Burnett’s request for permission to publish “The Young Man in the Stuffed Shirt” and “The Daughters of the Late Great Man” in Story, although he had earlier submitted them to Burnett for publication.
1960: The Salingers’ son, Matthew Robert, is born on 13 February. In Cornish, Salinger resists reporters’ repeated attempts to invade his private life.
1961: “Franny” and “Zooey” are published as Franny and Zooey by Little, Brown on 14 September. The book climbs onto the New York Times best-seller list, where it remains for six months and reaches number one.
1962: Salinger rejects Hamilton’s advance and offer to publish Franny and Zooey in England and accepts a smaller advance from another British publisher, William Heinemann, who brings out the book in June.
1963: “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction” are published by Little, Brown as Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Heine-mann publishes the book in England.
1965: Salinger rejects Burnett’s request to include one of his stories in Story Jubilee, an anthology of early works by well-known writers that had originally been published in Story. Salinger writes an introduction for the anthology, but Burnett does not use it because it focuses on Burnett rather than the Story authors. “Hapworth 16, 1924” is published in The New Yorker in June.
1967: Salinger and Claire divorce.
1968: Salinger takes his children on a vacation to England and Scotland during the spring.
1969: Salinger rejects a request from Burnett to include one of his stories in another anthology, This Is My Best in the Third Quarter of the Century (1970).
1972: After reading a cover story in The New York Times Magazine and seeing a photograph of the author, an eighteen-year-old Yale University student named Joyce Maynard, Salinger writes her several letters. Maynard moves into his house, but the relationship lasts for less than one year.
1974: Salinger breaks his long-held public silence after learning that an unauthorized, two-volume edition of his uncollected stories is being sold in San Francisco. He calls Lacey Fosburgh, a San Francisco-based writer for The New York Times, and an FBI investigation into the matter of the pirated edition ensues, but the persons responsible for the books are never found.
1975: Salinger contributes an epilogue, “A Salute to Whit Burnett, 1899-1972,” to Fiction Writer’s Handbook, in which he praises his former teacher’s ability to present writers’ works to students without diminishing the value of the works.
1976: Salinger attends a school play at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, in which his son, Matthew, performs.
1977: In July, Salinger travels by train to New York and makes a surprise appearance at a retirement dinner for an army colleague, John L. Keenan, who went on to serve as a chief of detectives in the New York Police Department.
1980: In June, Salinger meets with Betty Eppes, a reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate, and responds briefly to her questions. Eppes’s interview is published in The Advocate, The Boston Globe, and, during the following summer, The Paris Review.
1982: Salinger attends his daughter’s graduation at Brandeis University.
1986: A suit filed on Salinger’s behalf against booksellers who sold the unauthorized edition of his uncollected stories is settled in his favor. As biographer Ian Hamilton’s “J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life” is about to go to press, Salinger seeks a preliminary injunction to block publication, arguing that he has not authorized Hamilton’s use of quotations from his unpublished letters. In November, Judge Pierre N. Leval of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rules against the injunction. In December, Salinger petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
1987: Salinger’s appeal of Leval’s ruling is successful, and a preliminary injunction is granted. In September, Random House, Hamilton’s publisher, petitions the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a review of the lower-court decision. In October the Supreme Court denies the petition.
1988: Hamilton’s revised version of his biography, In Search of J. D. Salinger, is published.
1992: In October a fire destroys a major portion of Salinger’s house in Cornish. By this time he is married to a nurse named Colleen O’Neill.
1999: At a Sotheby’s auction in June, Maynard sells fourteen letters written to her by Salinger between 25 April 1972 and 17 August 1973. Computer software entrepreneur and art collector Peter Norton buys the letters for $156,500. Respecting Salinger’s privacy, Norton says that he will do with the letters whatever Salinger wishes—return them or destroy them. Salinger makes no public comment.
2000: Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, publishes Dream Catcher: A Memoir, providing an account of her family life and her relationship with her father.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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

(The entire section is 52 words.)

About J. D. Salinger

(Literary Masters)


Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on 1 January 1919, the second child of Sol and Miriam Salinger. A daughter, Doris, had...

(The entire section is 7514 words.)

Anne Marple (review date 18 September 1961)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 1224 words.)

J. D. O'Hara (essay date Winter 1963-1964)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2946 words.)

Bernice and Sanford Goldstein (essay date Autumn 1966)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5459 words.)

Kerry McSweeney (essay date Spring 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3700 words.)

Edwin Haviland Miller (essay date Winter 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6598 words.)

Sanford Pinsker (essay date Winter 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

—Holden Caulfield1

I first read these...

(The entire section is 6588 words.)

Max F. Schulz (essay date 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4370 words.)

Helen Weinberg (essay date 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 8242 words.)

John Wenke (essay date 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3635 words.)

Terry Teachout (essay date September 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3765 words.)

Joyce Rowe (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7311 words.)

Peter Shaw (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6608 words.)

Pamela Steinle (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4877 words.)

Susan K. Mitchell (essay date December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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:


(The entire section is 4205 words.)

Salinger at Work

(Literary Masters)


In an author’s note for the publication of his story “Down at the Dinghy” in Harper’s in 1949, Salinger said, “I just started to write when I was eighteen or so and never stopped.”1 He took the most important step in his literary career when he was twenty and enrolled in Whit Burnett’s story-writing course at Columbia University in the spring of 1939. Salinger must have known that...

(The entire section is 7219 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Alsen, Eberhard. “The Role of Vedanta Hinduism in Salinger's Seymour Novel.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature XXXIII, No. 2 (Winter 1981): 99-116.

Examines the significance of Vedantic themes and allusions in Salinger's Glass family stories.

———. Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel. Troy, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, 1983.

Provides analysis of the characters, plot, narrative structure, and unifying spiritual themes of Salinger's Glass family saga.

Antico, John. “The Parody of J. D. Salinger: Esmé and the Fat Lady Exposed.” Modern Fiction...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

Salinger’s Era

(Literary Masters)


During the first ten years of Salinger’s life as a child and schoolboy in New York, the American economy was enjoying a bull market that seemed to many as if it would have no end. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) Jay Gatsby’s houseguest Klipspringer expresses the...

(The entire section is 7333 words.)

Salinger’s Works

(Literary Masters)



The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.

The narrator, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, now recuperating in a psychiatric institution, tells the story of the “madman stuff”1 that...

(The entire section is 33860 words.)

Salinger on Salinger

(Literary Masters)

Salinger has refused to admit visitors to his grounds and home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and he has denied nearly all requests for interviews. Rarely has he answered letters or responded to inquiries of any kind. Furthermore, he has steadfastly prevented publication of his letters, always one of the best sources of information about any public figure. So extreme has Salinger been in observing a vow of silence with respect to his personal life that shortly after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, he began rejecting even his publisher’s requests for biographical material to be used in the promotion of his work. Those who have sought facts about Salinger or his opinions concerning his life and writing...

(The entire section is 2044 words.)

Salinger as Studied

(Literary Masters)


MARK TWAIN (1835-1910): Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), like The Catcher in the Rye, features a first-person narrator who speaks with a distinct voice in the American idiom. Both novels follow in the tradition of the quest narrative and provide strong criticism of American society. Alienated from their societies, Huck and Holden retain moral purity while affirming goodness and opposing whatever demeans other human beings. Both books present social indictments and attack hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Perhaps one of the most interesting comparisons between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye...

(The entire section is 1601 words.)

Study Questions

(Literary Masters)

  1. Critics in the 1950s and 1960s frequently compared Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, arguing that both novels were in the tradition of the quest narrative. In what way is Holden Caulfield’s journey a quest? What has he been seeking, and what have been the results of that search?
  2. In “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” the narrator points out that the first part of the story is about love and the second part about squalor. Why does the narrator shift from a first-person to a third-person point of view and refer to himself as Sergeant X in the squalor part of the story?
  3. Critics have noted that the last two...

(The entire section is 957 words.)


(Literary Masters)



The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. London: Hamilton, 1951.

Franny and Zooey. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961. London: Heinemann, 1962.

Nine Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Published in England as For Esmé— with Love and Squalor, and Other Stories. London: Hamilton, 1953. Comprises “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” “Just Before the War with the...

(The entire section is 1606 words.)