illustrated portrait of American author J. D. Salinger

J. D. Salinger

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The most famous work of J. D. Salinger, besides his short stories, is the novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951), which influenced a generation of readers and is still considered a classic.


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The precise and powerful creation of J. D. Salinger’s characters, especially Holden Caulfield and the Glass family, has led them to become part of American folklore. Salinger’s ironic fiction and enigmatic personality captured the imagination of post-World War II critics and students. His authorized books were published over the course of twelve years, from 1951 to 1963, yet his works still remain steadily in print in many languages throughout the world.

Salinger received a number of awards in his career. “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise” was selected as one of the distinguished short stories published in American magazines for 1945 and was later included in The Best Short Stories 1946. “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” was reprinted in Prize Stories of 1949. “A Girl I Know” was selected for The Best American Short Stories 1949. “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” was selected as one of the distinguished short stories published in American magazines in 1950 and is included in Prize Stories of 1950. The novel The Catcher in the Rye was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection for 1951.

Martin Green remarked that Salinger was not so much a writer who depicted life as one who celebrated it, an accurate characterization of the humor and love in his work. Ultimately, the most serious charge against him is that his output was too small.

Other literary forms

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Little, Brown published three collections of short fiction by J. D. Salinger (SAL-ihn-jur): Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction” (1963). An unauthorized paperback collection of his stories in two volumes, The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger, apparently published by an unidentified source in Berkeley, California, was issued in 1974. It provoked Salinger’s first public statement in some years, denouncing the collection, which was suppressed by the copyright holders. There has been one film adaptation of his work, produced by Samuel Goldwyn and adapted by Julius J. and Phillip G. Epstein from Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” renamed My Foolish Heart (1950) and starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews. Salinger was so upset by the screen version that he banned all further adaptations of his work into any other medium.


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In the post-World War II years, J. D. Salinger was unanimously acclaimed by both literate American youth and the critical establishment. His only novel has sold steadily since its publication, and it not only still generates high sales but also generates intense discussion as to its appropriateness for classroom use. Although not a prolific writer, Salinger’s popularity in terms of both sales and critical articles and books written about him has continued unabated since the early 1950’s.

The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most widely read and influential postwar novels, and it entered the culture as a statement of youth’s view of the complex world. The novel has been translated into German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Dutch, Danish, Hebrew, Czechoslovakian, Yugoslavian, and Russian and has been highly successful. In Russia, possession of a copy of The Catcher in the Rye became something of a status symbol for young intellectuals. Although there have been problems in translating the particularly American idiom into foreign languages, the story touches a nerve that cuts across cultural and global lines. The novel has also been favorably compared to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) in terms of its portrayal of the “phoniness” of society, the coming-of-age of a young man,...

(This entire section contains 257 words.)

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and its use of colloquial language.

Salinger’s reputation, paradoxically, has been aided by his refusal to give interviews or to be seen in public. Critics and magazine writers have pursued him relentlessly, trying to discover his thoughts, concerns, and approaches to literature and writing.

Discussion Topics

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How does J. D. Salinger’s use of detail and description aid in characterization? In the development of themes?

Salinger typically uses dialogue and everyday speech in his works. What is the effect of this language? How does it further his themes and ideas?

Where do religious concepts and ideas appear in the stories? Why?

In what ways does Salinger explore human isolation and loneliness?


Critical Essays