illustrated portrait of American author J. D. Salinger

J. D. Salinger

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Which aspects of J.D. Salinger's life most influenced his short stories?

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J D Salinger had a fairly privileged childhood but could never rise to his father's expectations. He was not motivated by any desire to perform academically and his only real ambition was to become a famous author. His character Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye reveals some similarities with Salinger with an unimpressive school career and a need to find his place in the world, although not in a traditional sense.

Some details of Salinger's life and his influences remain vague but he was apparently influenced by Ernest Hemingway a, then, war correspondent, during the time he served in the 12th Regiment of the American 4th Infantry Division. Salinger, although he had a personal respect for Hemingway, was not overly partial to Hemingway's style, This is alluded to in The Catcher in the Rye when Caulfield expresses his dislike for Hemingway. Caulfield had previously featured in several of Salinger's short stories, commencing with Slight Rebellion off Madison, before he became the subject of Salinger's most famous work. 

There is a common thread through Salinger's short stories as his characters search for spiritual fulfillment; something that Salinger, the son of a Christian mother (who converted to Judaism) and a Jewish father, also struggled with. The Second World War (WW II) took its toll on Salinger and it was his characters from the still to be written novel and his short stories that helped him manage the death and destruction he had witnessed. Salinger, in a letter he wrote whilst being treated for what today would be recognized as post Traumatic Stress, suggested that he could "play" Holden Caulfield, the character whom was still developing. 

The Glass family which is the subject of his later short stories is a culmination of characters he had previously created. The family's struggles then reflect his own personal battle, having essentially withdrawn from society and even from his family, isolating himself, deeply affected by his war experiences. The Glass family finds itself navigating a world in search of "Holy Ground." It is these characters who helped Salinger deal with his own anxieties and which provided the cathartic release he sought.

In 1948, his story, "A Perfect Day for Bananfish," is eventually published by The New Yorker magazine and the Glass family finds its place. Franny Glass, from "Franny," is inspired, according to Salinger, by his new wife, Claire Douglas, to whom he presents a copy of the story in 1955. He went on to publish Franny and Zooey in 1961.

Salinger, despite achieving what he set out to do, became controversial and there has been much speculation about his motivations and affectations. He always maintained that a person should strive to find inner peace and he found his through writing although the fame that went with it became counter-productive to him. 

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