Salinger, J.D. 1919–
Salinger, J.D. 1919–
(Jerome David Salinger)
PERSONAL: Born January 1, 1919, in New York, New York; son of Sol (an importer) and Miriam (Jillich) Salinger; allegedly married September, 1945; wife's name Sylvia (a physician; divorced, 1947); married Claire Douglas, February 17, 1955 (divorced, October, 1967); children: (second marriage) Margaret Ann, Matthew. Education: Graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy, 1936; attended New York University, Ursinus College, and Columbia University.
ADDRESSES: Home—Cornish, NH. Agent—Harold Ober Associates, Inc., 425 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as an entertainer on Swedish liner M.S. Kungsholm in the Caribbean, 1941. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942–46; served in Europe; became staff sergeant; received five battle stars.
The Catcher in the Rye (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1951.
Nine Stories, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1953, published as For Esme—With Love and Squalor, and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1953.
Franny and Zooey (two stories; "Franny" first published in New Yorker, January 29, 1955, and "Zooey," New Yorker, May 4, 1957), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1961.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction ("Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" first published in New Yorker, November 19, 1955, and "Seymour," New Yorker, June 6, 1959), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1963.
The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger, two volumes, [California], 1974.
Hapworth 16, 1924 (novella), Orchises (Washington, DC), 1997.
Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Story, Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire.
Collections of Salinger's correspondence are housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, and at the Firestone Library, Princeton University.
ADAPTATIONS: The story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" was adapted as the motion picture My Foolish Heart, 1950. The story "Raise High the Roofbeam, Car-penters" was adapted as a dance performance by the Silver-Brown Dance Company. It premiered June 12, 2005, at the 92nd St. Y in New York.
SIDELIGHTS: J.D. Salinger first rose to prominence with the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. Prior to this, Salinger had written only a handful of short stories published in popular magazines. While Salinger's novel is more complex than many first-time readers perceive, its appeal to both adolescents and adults remains strong, conferring upon it the status of a classic novel. Salinger's work following the phenomenal success of The Catcher in the Rye has been modest considering the promise demonstrated by that first book. Salinger collected a number of short pieces in Nine Stories, each of which demonstrate his command of middle-class American colloquial speech, mastery of eccentric characterization, and deft irony.
Salinger's Franny and Zooey consists of two long short stories, previously published in the New Yorker, and featuring the fictional Glass family. Salinger later published another Glass family story sequence, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction, again from two previously published New Yorker pieces. Another part of the Glass family chronicle, Hapworth 16, 1924, a novella-length story told in the form of a letter, originally published in the New Yorker in 1965, has since been published.
Salinger has been criticized by reviewers for focusing so much of his attention on the Glass family. He has also annoyed critics with his outright refusal to participate in a debate of his works. 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 avoided all contact with the public. Because of this, the record of his life remains incomplete.
Salinger published his first short story, "The Young Folks," in 1940 in Story magazine, founded and edited by one of Salinger's former teachers. Encouraged by the story's success, Salinger continued to write even while serving in the army during World War II. Back home many of his stories were being published in magazines including Collier's, the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and Cosmopolitan.
After the war Salinger continued to write stories for magazine publication. His story "Slight Rebellion off Madison," was published in the New Yorker in December, 1946. It was at this time that Salinger began his career as a writer of serious fiction. Between 1946 and 1951 he published seven stories in the New Yorker.
Among the stories Salinger published during the late 1940s was "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the first story featuring the mysterious, brooding, and tragic Seymour Glass, a character who haunts much of Salinger's later work. Initiating the long, complex saga of the Glass family, the story examines Seymour's life, spiritual quest, and unhappy end around which all of the Glass stories are organized. It also contains themes and concerns central to Salinger's work: the conflict between the spiritual questor and the crass materialist, the loss of childhood innocence in a perverse world, and the search for genuine love amidst often adulterated human relationships.
Although this story ends with the shocking scene of Seymour committing suicide, it does not depend on sensationalism to achieve its impact. Rather, the ending builds naturally from the ambivalence created in the reader's mind toward the troubled character of Seymour, who seems simultaneously innocent and threatening, spiritual and vaguely perverse. This depth of characterization is a trademark of Salinger's fiction. In J.D. Salinger, Revisited, Warren French, considered "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" among the "best-known" stories written since the end of World War II and declared that its complexities and significance make it more than simply a "springboard" to the later Glass cycle.
Most of the stories Salinger wrote and collected in Nine Stories demonstrate the seemingly insoluble dilemmas people face in their lives. In many of these stories, frequent victims of the sinister nature of the modern world are children groping with the mysterious problems of the adult world. Such is the case in the stories "Teddy," "Down at the Dinghy," and "The Laughing Man." Other stories focus upon the problems of adults, portraying them as hapless figures unable to deal with the complex emotional entanglements of their lives or as active exploiters of other people. In the story "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes," a man tries to comfort a late-night caller who suspects his absent wife of infidelity. While the man calmly and rationally explains away the caller's fears, he is lying in bed next to his friend's wife. Such lapses in personal morality are also a common feature of Salinger's work, making this story typical of what French called "the pit of the modern urban hell," and one of the writer's most "bitter, cynical stories."
Salinger demonstrates in his fiction what Dan Wakefield described in an article in Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait as the search for love. Wakefield argued that the search for unadulterated emotional contact is central to Salinger's work, which, he concluded, can be seen as "the history of human trouble and the poetry of love." The power of unqualified love as a restorative agent against the evils of life is perhaps best illustrated in "For Esme—With Love and Squalor." Some critics consider this story Salinger's finest piece of short fiction.
In the story a young English girl, Esme, redeems an American soldier suffering from combat fatigue. Struck by her innocent beauty, precocity, and native charm, the narrator promises to write a story for Esme about "squalor." Almost a year later while the soldier is recovering from a nervous reaction to combat, he receives a battered package from Esme in which he finds, enclosed with a letter, the gift of her dead father's watch. In the letter she reminds him of his promise to write a story for her about "squalor," wishes him well, and remarks that she hopes he comes through the war with all of his "faculties intact." Reading her letter and contemplating its unselfish expression of affection, the narrator finds himself able to sleep (a restorative agent in Salinger's fiction). His recovery allows him to write this story and fulfill his promise six years later, which he does after receiving an invitation to Esme's wedding.
This gesture of Esme's—what Ihab Hassan, in Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, called "The Rare Quixotic Gesture"—represents Salinger's most eloquent answer to the dilemma of modern life. It also lies close to the center, as Hassan noted, of The Catcher in the Rye. While Catcher's Holden Caulfield rebels against his society, he does not attempt to overturn the established values system. Holden instead insists that those values be restored from the perversion they have suffered under the world of "phonies."
As the novel stands today, it represents perhaps the most sensitive portrait of coming-of-age in America in the years following World War II. Few other books have had as great an impact on a generation—so much so that Holden Caulfield has entered the popular mythology of American culture alongside such figures Jay Gatsby and Huck Finn. As Edgar Branch pointed out in Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, the pattern of similarity between Huck and Holden is striking, making The Catcher in the Rye "a kind of Huckleberry Finn in modern dress."
Holden, like Huck, flees from the world of conventionality. Holden's flight from Pencey Prep a few days before the beginning of Christmas vacation is partly a reaction to his inability to cope with his schoolmates, but also a vain attempt to forestall his flunking out of school. During the course of the story readers learn that this is his third failure at school and part of a pattern of neurotic behavior, much of which, one suspects, is Holden's reaction to the death of a younger brother. Although Holden is well aware of his own limitations, he fails to identify or understand his inability to come to terms with the conditions of the adult world; he instead directs his complaints against the world of "phoniness," which includes most adults.
Taking flight from this world, Holden plans to head west, but begins his journey by traveling to New York to say goodbye to his sister. On the way he participates in a series of humorous adventures. Such confusion in direction is characteristic of Holden, who often behaves impulsively. In fact, one of Salinger's more subtle devices is to undercut his main character by placing him in situations wherein his own phoniness is exposed, and yet making his character all the more engaging through what readers perceive as his sensitivity and intelligence. Throughout the story Holden adopts many roles to deceive other people. His motivation, however, is not to exploit others, but rather to establish contact with them. In this respect, much of Holden's sympathetic appeal lies in his loneliness and difficulty in trying to sort out the confusing impulses of the adult world.
Another source of the novel's success lies in its elaborate structure that on the surface seems rambling and inconclusive. However, as Carl F. Strauch demonstrated in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, a close scrutiny of the novel reveals "complex patterns" of "symbolic structure of language, motif, episode, and character," all of which contribute to its affirmative quality. Strauch took issue with critics who discounted the novel's significance, calling it instead a "masterpiece that moves effortlessly on the colloquial surface and at the same time uncovers, with hypnotic compulsion, a psychological drama of unrelenting terror and final beauty."
Despite his confusion and ignorance, Holden is able to communicate and even express his experience in metaphoric terms. In the most crucial scene in the novel Holden, misquoting a line from Robert Burns, describes his mission in life as a "catcher in the rye," a figure who wishes to keep all of the children in the world from falling off "some crazy cliff." This, then, is Holden's "quixotic gesture," his reaching out to others in an act of selfless love, even from the depths of his own confusion and grief. The ultimate irony is that Holden's gesture is doomed to failure. He cannot prevent his own fall into the adulterated world of experience, much less the fall of others. This irony does not diminish the quality of Holden's gesture, making it instead all the more profound.
It is little wonder that The Catcher in the Rye became a favorite among young people. It skillfully validates adolescent experience with its spirit of rebellion. However, it was not until after the publication of Nine Stories that Salinger began to attract serious critical attention. Through the later 1950s his notoriety was further enhanced by the gradual unfolding of the Glass saga in the pages of the New Yorker.
Perhaps the best way to grasp the long and complex story of the Glass family is to consider its separately published parts as a complete unit. The Glass saga consists of six short stories that have been published as "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (in Nine Stories), Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction, and Hapworth 16, 1924. Eberhard Alsen, in his study Salinger's Glass Stories As a Composite Novel, identified three major themes in the Glass cycle: the concern for the lack of spiritual values in contemporary America, the development of Buddy as a writer, and Seymour's quest for enlightenment.
Although Seymour Glass is at the core of the Glass cycle, he actually appears only in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," in which he commits suicide. Whether or not Seymour's final act confirms his role as a true visionary or a "failed guru" is the subject of considerable critical debate; however, the issue is moot since Seymour's success or failure in resolving his own spiritual conflicts is far less important than the effect his teaching has in helping to resolve the conflicts of his younger siblings. It is the latter influence that makes Seymour the crucial figure in the series.
In "Franny," the youngest of the Glass daughters suffers physical and nervous collapse as she tries to reconcile her desire for a pure spiritual experience with her involvement in a sexual relationship with her crude, insensitive boyfriend. Franny's crisis continues into the companion story, "Zooey," in which her elder brother, a successful television actor, is able to mediate her concerns by reminding her of the example of Seymour, who once helped Zooey understand the importance of accepting the worldly nature of religious experience.
In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," Buddy Glass retrospectively narrates his attendance at Seymour's wedding in 1942, an event the groom chose not to attend, eloping instead with his fiancee Muriel. Again, in this story Seymour is physically absent, but his peculiar character generates discussion about him by the indignant wedding guests. Buddy overhears and records their negative comments, which reinforce his own understanding of his brother's special sensibility. Buddy recognizes that Seymour will not allow what he actually is to be compromised by the world's perceptions of him.
In another case, the problem of accurately perceiving his brother prompts Buddy years later to write "Seymour: An Introduction," which he intends to serve as a guide for the "general reader" to the saintly nature of his dead brother. In the narrative, Buddy often reveals more about himself and his own opinions of life and literature than he does about Seymour. In this respect the "Introduction" is never quite complete; Seymour remains a mysterious presence not fully comprehensible to the reader. Buddy's "Introduction" is described by French as a fascinating, "even if not a convincing work."
The final segment of the Glass cycle, "Hapworth 16, 1924," consists of a long letter written by Seymour, aged seven, to his family describing his and five-year-old Buddy's experiences at summer camp. The masterful prose and flashy displays of erudition seem entirely implausible for a young child, even one with Seymour's special gifts; however, as French suggested, the disparity between what is plausible and what appears on the page only underscores the "heart-rending evocations of an exquisitely sensitive young person trapped in a situation for which he can find no physical or metaphysical justification."
While Salinger is generally applauded for The Catcher in the Rye, his subsequent work raised questions as to the degree of his overall talent. Norman Mailer remarked in his Advertisements for Myself that Salinger was "the greatest mind to ever stay in prep school." Mailer complained that Salinger avoids the discomforting subjects demanded of serious writers. These comments were reinforced by Alfred Kazin who, in a review of Franny and Zooey collected in Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, accused Salinger of appealing to a "vast public" of readers "released by our society to think of themselves as endlessly sensitive, spiritually alone, gifted, and whose suffering lies in the narrowing of their consciousness to themselves."
Despite the generally negative reaction to Franny and Zooey, the novel became a popular success, and for a time through the 1960s Salinger's fiction attracted con-siderable attention. However, interest in his later work evaporated after the appearance of the final Glass stories. The Catcher in the Rye remains a widely read, critical success. There is little doubt that with this novel alone Salinger has made an enduring contribution.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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