J. D. Salinger
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jerome David Salinger (January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American author best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. His last original published work was in 1965; he gave his last interview in 1980.
Raised in Manhattan, Salinger began writing short stories while in secondary school, and published several stories in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 he published the critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his subsequent work. In 1951 Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.
The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny: Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953), a collection of a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961), and a collection of two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924," appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.
Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924" in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity, the release was indefinitely delayed. He made headlines around the globe in June 2009, after filing a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer's use of one of Salinger's characters from Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Literary style and themes
In a contributor's note Salinger gave to Harper's Magazine in 1946, he wrote: "I almost always write about very young people", a statement which has been referred to as his credo. Adolescents are featured or appear in all of Salinger's work, from his first published short story, "The Young Folks", to The Catcher in the Rye and his Glass family stories. In 1961, the critic Alfred Kazin explained that Salinger's choice of teenagers as a subject matter was one reason for his appeal to young readers, but another was "a consciousness [among youths] that he speaks for them and virtually to them, in a language that is peculiarly honest and their own, with a vision of things that capture their most secret judgments of the world." Salinger's language, especially his energetic, realistically sparse dialogue, was revolutionary at the time his first stories were published, and was seen by several critics as "the most distinguishing thing" about his work.
Salinger identified closely with his characters, and used techniques such as interior monologue, letters, and extended telephone calls to display his gift for dialogue. Recurring themes in Salinger's stories also connect to the ideas of innocence and adolescence, the disconnect between teenagers and "phony" adults, and the perceptive, precocious intelligence of children.
Contemporary critics discuss a clear progression over the course of Salinger's published work, as evidenced by the increasingly negative reviews received by each of his three post-Catcher story collections. Ian Hamilton adheres to this view, arguing that while Salinger's early stories for the "slicks" boasted "tight, energetic" dialogue, they had also been formulaic and sentimental. It took the standards of The New Yorker editors, among them William Shawn, to refine his writing into the "spare, teasingly mysterious, withheld" qualities of "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", The Catcher in the Rye, and his stories of the early 1950s. By the late 1950s, as Salinger became more reclusive and involved in religious study, Hamilton notes that his stories became longer, less plot-driven, and increasingly filled with digression and parenthetical remarks. Louis Menand agrees, writing in The New Yorker that Salinger "stopped writing stories, in the conventional sense ... He seemed to lose interest in fiction as an art form—perhaps he thought there was something manipulative or inauthentic about literary device and authorial control." In recent years, Salinger's later work has been defended by some critics; in 2001, Janet Malcolm wrote in The New York Review of Books that "Zooey" "is arguably Salinger's masterpiece ... Rereading it and its companion piece "Franny" is no less rewarding than rereading The Great Gatsby.
Salinger's writing has influenced several prominent writers, prompting Harold Brodkey (himself an O. Henry Award-winning author) to state in 1991: "His is the most influential body of work in English prose by anyone since Hemingway." Of the writers in Salinger's generation, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike attested that "the short stories of J. D. Salinger really opened my eyes as to how you can weave fiction out of a set of events that seem almost unconnected, or very lightly connected ... [Reading Salinger] stick[s] in my mind as really having moved me a step up, as it were, toward knowing how to handle my own material." The critic Louis Menand has observed that the early stories of Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Roth were affected by "Salinger's voice and comic timing".
National Book Award finalist Richard Yates told The New York Times in 1977 that reading Salinger's stories for the first time was a landmark experience, and that "nothing quite like it has happened to me since." Yates describes Salinger as "a man who used language as if it were pure energy beautifully controlled, and who knew exactly what he was doing in every silence as well as in every word." Gordon Lish's O. Henry Award-winning short story "For Jeromé—With Love and Kisses" (1977, collected in What I Know So Far, 1984), is a parody of Salinger's "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor".
In 2001, Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker that "Catcher in the Rye rewrites" among each new generation had become "a literary genre all its own." He classed among them Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984), and Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). The writer Aimee Bender was struggling with her first short stories when a friend gave her a copy of Nine Stories; inspired, she later described Salinger's effect on writers, explaining: "[I]t feels like Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye in a day, and that incredible feeling of ease inspires writing. Inspires the pursuit of voice. Not his voice. My voice. Your voice." Authors such as Stephen Chbosky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Carl Hiaasen, Susan Minot, Haruki Murakami, Gwendoline Riley, Tom Robbins, Louis Sachar, and Joel Stein have cited Salinger as an influence.
A film released in 2000, Finding Forrester, was loosely based on Salinger. In the film, Sean Connery plays a reclusive author whose only published novel was considered to be a literary masterpiece. After publishing the novel, Connery's character had become reclusive and remained so for nearly 30 years.
List of works
- The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
- Nine Stories (1953)
- "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948)
- "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" (1948)
- "Just Before the War with the Eskimos" (1948)
- "The Laughing Man" (1949)
- "Down at the Dinghy" (1949)
- "For Esmé – with Love and Squalor" (1950)
- "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes" (1951)
- "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" (1952)
- "Teddy" (1953)
- Franny and Zooey (1961)
- Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963)
- "Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters" (1955)
- "Seymour: An Introduction" (1959)
Published and anthologized stories
- "Go See Eddie" (1940, republished in Fiction: Form & Experience, ed. William M. Jones, 1969)
- "The Hang of It" (1941, republished in The Kit Book for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, 1943)
- "The Long Debut of Lois Taggett" (1942, republished in Stories: The Fiction of the Forties, ed. Whit Burnett, 1949)
- "A Boy in France" (1945, republished in Post Stories 1942–45, ed. Ben Hibbs, 1946)
- "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise" (1945, republished in The Armchair Esquire, ed. L. Rust Hills, 1959)
- "A Girl I Knew" (1948, republished in Best American Short Stories 1949, ed. Martha Foley, 1949)
- "Slight Rebellion off Madison" (1946, republished in Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker, ed. David Remnick, 2000)
Published and unanthologized stories
- "The Young Folks" (1940)
- "The Heart of a Broken Story" (1941)
- "Personal Notes of an Infantryman" (1942)
- "The Varioni Brothers" (1943)
- "Both Parties Concerned" (1944)
- "Soft Boiled Sergeant" (1944)
- "Last Day of the Last Furlough" (1944)
- "Once a Week Won't Kill You" (1944)
- "Elaine" (1945)
- "The Stranger" (1945)
- "I'm Crazy" (1945)
- "A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All" (1947)
- "The Inverted Forest" (1943)
- "Blue Melody" (1948)
- "Hapworth 16, 1924" (1965)
Unpublished and unanthologized stories
- "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls" (date unknown)
- "The Last and Best of the Peter Pans" (date unknown)
- "Two Lonely Men" (1944)
- "The Children's Echelon" (1944)
- "The Magic Foxhole" (1945)