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Salinger, J. D.

J. D. Salinger

Born: January 1, 1919
New York, New York

American writer

J. D. Salinger, best known for his controversial novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951), is recognized by critics and readers alike as one of the most popular and influential authors of American fiction during the second half of the twentieth century.

Growing up in the "House of Glass"

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on January 1, 1919, and like the members of the fictional Glass family that appear in some of his works, was the product of mixed parentagehis father was Jewish and his mother was Scotch-Irish. Salinger's upbringing was not unlike that of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, the Glass children, and many of his other characters. Unlike the Glass family with its brood of seven children, Salinger had only an elder sister. He grew up in fashionable areas of Manhattan and for a time attended public schools. Later, the young Salinger attended prep schools where he apparently found it difficult to adjust. In 1934 his father enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy near Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he stayed for approximately two years, graduating in June of 1936.

Salinger maintained average grades and was an active, if at times distant, participant in a number of extracurricular activities. He began to write fiction, often by flashlight under his blankets after the hour when lights had to be turned out. Salinger contributed work to the school's literary magazine, served as literary editor of the yearbook during his senior year, participated in the chorus, and was active in drama club productions. He is also credited with composing the words to the school's anthem.

Published author

In 1938 Salinger enrolled in Ursinus College at Collegeville, Pennsylvania. While at Ursinus he resumed his literary pursuits, contributing a humorous column to the school's weekly newspaper. He left the school after only one semester. Obviously an intelligent and sensitive man, Salinger apparently did not respond well to the structure and rigors of a college education. This attitude found its way into much of his writing, as there is a pattern throughout his work of impatience with formal learning and academic types.

Despite Salinger's dislike of formal education, he attended Columbia University in 1939 and participated in a class on short story writing taught by Whit Burnett (18991973). Burnett, a writer and important editor, made a lasting impression on the young author, and it was in the magazine Story, founded and edited by Burnett, that Salinger published his first story, "The Young Folks," in the spring of 1940. Encouraged by the success of this effort, Salinger continued to write and after a year of rejection slips finally broke into the rank of well-paying magazines catering to popular reading tastes.

Salinger entered military service in 1942 and served until the end of World War II (193945; a war in which Allied forces led by Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States fought with the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan). Salinger participated in the Normandy campaign, when Allied forces landed on French shores and turned the tide of the war, and the liberation of France from the occupying German army. He continued to write and publish while in the army, carrying a portable typewriter with him in the back of his jeep. After returning to the United States, Salinger's career as a writer of serious fiction took off. In 1946 the New Yorker published his story "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which was later rewritten to become a part of The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye

In 1951 Salinger's masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye landed at bookstores. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by his disgust for the "phoniness" of the adult world that he is about to enter. He finds peace only in the presence of Phoebe, his young sister. Taking flight from this world, Holden plans to head west, where he hopes to live a peaceful existence in a log cabin. However, he begins his journey by traveling to New York where he plans to say goodbye to his sister, and on the way he participates in a series of humorous adventures. Such a confusion in direction is characteristic of Caulfield, as there seems to be a pattern of impulsive behavior in many of his actions. One of Salinger's more subtle devices is to discredit his main character by placing him in situations wherein his own phoniness is exposed. In these situations his character is made all the more interesting through what readers quickly see as his sensitivity and intelligence.

It is little wonder that The Catcher in the Rye quickly became a favorite among young people; it skillfully demonstrates the adolescent experience with its spirit of rebellion. At various points in history, The Catcher in the Rye has been banned by public libraries, schools, and bookstores due to its presumed profanity (bad language), sexual subject matter, and rejection of traditional American values.


Despite its popular success, the critical response to The Catcher in the Rye was slow in getting underway. It was not until Nine Stories, a collection of previously published short stories came out in 1953 that Salinger began to attract serious critical attention.

Salinger did not publish another book until 1961, when his much anticipated Franny and Zooey appeared. This work consists of two long short stories, previously published in the New Yorker. Each concerns a crisis in the life of the youngest member of his fictional Glass familythe quirky characters who populate most of his work. In 1963 Salinger published another Glass family story sequence, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction, again from two previously published New Yorker pieces. Both stories revolve around the life and tragic death of Seymour Glass, the eldest of the Glass children, as narrated by his brother Buddy Glass, who is frequently identified as Salinger's alter-ego, or a representation of the author's personality.

The myth of J. D. Salinger

While Salinger's fictional characters have been endlessly analyzed and discussed, the author himself has remained a mystery. Since the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, he has consistently avoided contact with the public, obstructing attempts by those wishing to pry into his personal life. In 1987 he successfully blocked the publication of an unauthorized biography by Ian Hamilton. In his lawsuit, Salinger claimed copyright infringement on private matters Hamilton had discovered in the course of research. Even after revising his material, Hamilton was unable to satisfy Salinger or the court and was forced to withdraw the book. In 1988 an extensively revised version of Hamilton's work was published under the title In Search of J. D. Salinger, which represents a comprehensive study of the author and his work.

Deemed the "Summer of Salinger" by columnist Liz Smith, the summer of 1999 saw the release of the latest Salinger biography and the sale of love letters the author wrote to a former girlfriend, which sold for $156,000. The letters were bought by software millionaire Peter Norton, who returned the letters to the author. Paul Alexander's Salinger: A Biography, published on July 15, 1999, is the first full-length Salinger biography since Ian Hamilton's in 1988. Salinger has not made an effort to limit the release of the book, unlike the Hamilton biography.

In 1997 a rumor surfaced that a Salinger story originally printed in the New Yorker in 1965, "Hapworth 16, 1924," was soon to be released in book form. The publication is still planned but no date has been set.

Today Salinger lives in seclusion in rural New Hampshire, writing for his own pleasure and presumably enjoying his private world.

For More Information

Alexander, Paul. Salinger: A Biography. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1999.

Bloom, Harold, ed. J. D. Salinger: Modern Critical Views. Chelsea House, 1987.

Hamilton, Ian. In Search of J. D. Salinger. New York: Random House, 1988.

Salinger, Margaret A. Dream Catcher: A Memoir. New York: Washington Square Press, 2000.

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Salinger, J(erome) D(avid)

SALINGER, J(erome) D(avid)

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1 January 1919. Education: McBurney School, New York, 1932-34; Valley Forge Military Academy, Pennsylvania (editor, Crossed Sabres ), 1934-36; New York University, 1937; Ursinus College, Collegetown, Pennsylvania, 1938; Columbia University, New York, 1939. Military Service: Served in the 4th Infantry Division of the United States Army, 1942-45: Staff Sergeant. Family: Married 1) Sylvia Salinger in 1945 (divorced 1946); 2) Claire Douglas in 1955 (divorced 1967), one daughter and one son. Has lived in New Hampshire since 1953. Agent: Dorothy Olding, Harold Ober Associates, 425 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10017, U.S.A.



The Catcher in the Rye. Boston, Little Brown, and London, HamishHamilton, 1951.

Short Stories

Nine Stories. Boston, Little Brown, 1953; as For EsméWith Love and Squalor and Other Stories, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1953.

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

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Heinemann, 1963.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Young Folks," in Story (New York), March-April 1940.

"The Hang of It," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 12 July 1941.

"The Heart of a Broken Story," in Esquire (New York), September1941.

"Personal Notes on an Infantryman," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 12 December 1942.

"The Varioni Brothers," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 17July 1943.

"Both Parties Concerned," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 26 February 1944.

"Soft-Boiled Sergeant," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 15April 1944.

"Last Day of the Last Furlough," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 15 July 1944.

"Once a Week Won't Kill You," in Story (New York), November-December 1944.

"A Boy in France," in The Saturday Evening Post Stories 1942-45, edited by Ben Hibbs. New York, Random House, 1945.

"Elaine," in Story (New York), March-April 1945.

"The Stranger," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 1 December 1945.

"I'm Crazy," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 22 December 1945.

"Slight Rebellion Off Madison," in New Yorker, 21 December 1946.

"A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All," in Mademoiselle (New York), May 1947.

"The Inverted Forest," in Cosmopolitan (New York), December1947.

"Blue Melody," in Cosmopolitan (New York), September 1948.

"The Long Debut of Lois Taggett," in Story: The Fiction of the Forties, edited by Whit and Hallie Burnett. New York, Dutton, 1949.

"A Girl I Knew," in The Best American Short Stories 1949, edited byMartha Foley. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

"This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise," in The Armchair Esquire, edited by Arnold Gingrich and L. Rust Hills. New York, Putnam, 1958.

"Hapworth 16, 1924," in New Yorker, 19 June 1965.

"Go See Eddie," in Fiction: Form and Experience, edited byWilliam M. Jones. Lexington, Massachusetts, Heath, 1969.



J.D. Salinger: A Thirty Year Bibliography 1938-1968 by Kenneth Starosciak, privately printed, 1971; J.D. Salinger: An Annotated Bibliography 1938-1981 by Jack R. Sublette, New York, Garland, 1984.

Critical Studies (selection):

The Fiction of J.D. Salinger by Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958, London, Spearman, 1960; Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald, New York, Harper, 1962, London, Owen, 1964; J.D. Salinger and the Critics edited by William F. Belcher and James W. Lee, Belmont, California, Wadsworth, 1962; J.D. Salinger by Warren French, New York, Twayne, 1963, revised edition, 1976, revised edition, as J.D. Salinger Revisited, 1988; Studies in J.D. Salinger edited by Marvin Laser and Norman Fruman, New York, Odyssey Press, 1963; J.D. Salinger by James E. Miller, Jr., Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1965; J.D. Salinger: A Critical Essay by Kenneth Hamilton, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1967; Zen in the Art of J.D. Salinger by Gerald Rosen, Berkeley, California, Creative Arts, 1977;J.D. Salinger by James Lundquist, New York, Ungar, 1979; Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel by Eberhard Alsen, Troy, New York, Whitston, 1984; Brodie's Notes on J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, by Catherine Madinaveitia, London, Pan, 1987; In Search of J.D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton, London, Heinemann, and New York, Random House, 1988; Critical Essays on Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye edited by Joel Salzberg, Boston, Hall, 1990; Holden Caulfield edited by Harold Bloom, New York, Chelsea House, 1990; Alienation in the Fiction of Carson McCullers, J.D. Salinger, and James Purdy by Anil Kumar, Amritsar, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, 1991; J.D. Salinger: A Study of the Short Fiction by John Wenke, Boston, Twayne, 1991; New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye by Jack Salzman, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991; The Catcher in the Rye: Innocence Under Pressure by Sanford Pinsker, New York, Twayne, 1993; J.D. Salinger, edited by Harold Bloom, Broomall, Pennsylvania, Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

* * *

In terms of subject matter, the fiction of J.D. Salinger falls into two groups. His most celebrated work, The Catcher in the Rye, tells of several days in the life of a young man, Holden Caulfield, after he has left the school from which he has been expelled; he wanders around New York City in a late-adolescent pursuit of contacts that will have meaning for him. The novel itself is Holden's meditation on these days some months later when he is confined to a West Coast clinic. The rest of Salinger's work, with the exception of some of the stories in Nine Stories, has for its subject elements drawn from the experience of the Glass family who live in New York. The parents, Les and Bessie, are retired vaudeville dancers; Les is Jewish in origin, Bessie Catholica fact that announces the merging of religious traditions effected in the lives of their children. The children, begotten over a considerable period of time, are seven in number. They are Seymour, a gifted poet; Buddy, a writer; Walker and Wake, twinsone killed in war, the other finally a priest; Boo Boo, a happily married daughter; and two much younger children, Franny and Zooey.

The diverse subject matter of Salinger's fiction tends, in retrospect, to coalesce. Holden Caulfield's parents, less loving and concerned than the Glass couple, have also begotten several children. But in Holden's case, there is only one childa ten-year-old girlto whom Holden can turn in his desperation.

But it is not just the mirror-image of subject matter that binds the Caulfield narrative together with the tales of the Glass family. There is a unity of tone and a prevailing interest that inform all of Salinger's narratives and that have made them appeal deeply to readers for decades. The tone and interest combine to produce a sad, often ironic meditation on the plight of young persons who are coming to maturity in a society where precise and guiding values are absent. This recurrent meditation, concealed in wrappings that are usually grotesque and farcical, has drawn readers to Salinger. His characters move through a "world they never made;" they address questions to that world and receive, for the most part, only a "dusty answer." Casual social contacts so nauseate Holden Caulfield, for example, that he is frequently at the point of vomiting. His quest for love is harassed by the sexual basis of love, and he is repelled. The only good relation in his life rests on the affection he feels for his younger sister; she is the one light in a wilderness of adult hypocrisy, lust, and perversion. In contrast, affection takes in a larger area in the Glass family chronicles; mutual esteem and concern bind the family together and somewhat offset the dreary vision of human relations in The Catcher in the Rye.

Perhaps one reason for this contrast is that, in The Catcher in the Rye, the narrative is presented from the point of view of Holden, a malleable, only half-conscious person. He moves in many directions, but none leads him toward the goals he aspires to. His teachers are "phonies;" the one in whom he puts some trust turns out to be a homosexual. His encounter with a prostitute gives him nothing, and his relations with girls of his class do not offer him the gift of comprehension. His parents are as deceived as he is about the proper use of the gift of life. As indicated, only his younger sister can offer him the love he needs, and she is too immature to counterbalance the panorama of insincerity that unfolds before Holden's eyes. So for Holden, all is in suspensean effect that appealed strongly to Salinger's readers.

But for members of the Glass family, all is not fully in suspense. That gifted group of young people has indeed been badly shaken by the suicide of Seymour, their most gifted sibling. Thus, the central "mystery" which they must come to terms with is not Holden's general panorama of hypocrisy; the death and even more the remembered life of Seymour contain a secret that they are haunted by. The actual death of Seymour is briefly narrated in the story, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," in Nine Stories. Later work, told from various points of view, relates the efforts of members of the Glass family to grasp and apply the eclectic religious truths that the memory of Seymour reminds them of. In none of these tales is there an effort to explain the suicide; this is a fact which the brothers and sisters accept rather than assess. What they do assess, in terms of their own later experience, is the teaching presence of Seymour as they recall it. In the two sections of Franny and Zooey, the two youngest members of the family reach out in directions that Seymour, in effect, has already pointed out. In "Franny" the heroine is obsessed by the "Jesus prayer" which she has come across in the memoirs of a Russian monk; she does not know how to pray the prayer and is only aware that, until she does, all her other relations will be without meaning. In "Zooey" her charming brother helps her and himself to come to a grasp of what Seymour's existence had announced: repetition of the Jesus prayer transforms life that is contemptible into a constant act of love and reveals that a "fat lady" is indeed Christthe "fat lady" and every other human being one encounters. In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters"told from the point of view of Buddy, the writing brotherthe ridiculous circumstances of Seymour's wedding day are related: Seymour and his fiancée finally elope rather than endure an elaborate and empty wedding ceremony. Finally, in "Seymour: An Introduction"also told from the point of view of Buddyall that can be recalled of Seymour is put down. Recalled are his mastery of the allusive oriental haiku and his even more important mastery of the process of extorting the greatest significance from trivial events (e.g., a game of marbles becomes a vehicle of Zen instruction).

It is undoubtedly the merging of Eastern and Western religious wisdomthe solution of the "mystery" of existencethat gives the work of Salinger its particular élan. In pursuit of what might be called the Seymour effect, the other Glasses consume innumerable packs of cigarettes and break out into perspiration when they find themselves in blind alleys. But the alleys occasionally open up, and fleeting vistas of human unity flash before the eyes. One can but hope that Holden Caulfield, in his later years, will meet one of the younger Glasses whose personal destinies swell to the proportions of regulative myth.

Harold H. Watts

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