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.