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J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye Miranda Hensley p.6 Term Paper

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One of the most controversial yet influential authors of the 20th century, J.D. Salinger, led an intriguing life to say the least. His most popular work, The Catcher in the Rye, is a coming-­‐of-­‐age novel that has sparked strong, opinionated debates amongst the people of America since its release in the 1950’s. Its impact on society in the 1950’s until present day should be highly praised for creating the thriving society full of independent thinkers that we so cherish today. Its origin, from a brilliant reclusive author, J.D. Salinger is of equal importance. Jerome David Salinger was born January 1st, 1919 in New York City, New York. His father, Sol Salinger was the son of a rabbi. His mother on the other hand, Miriam, was Scottish. Salinger’s childhood, taking place in the 20’s, his family’s background was quite controversial. Because his mother was from a non-­‐Jewish background the Salinger’s were a mixed family, which in this era, was looked down upon. For the sake of their children, the Salinger’s kept Miriam’s background hidden until after J.D., or Sonny, (which was Salinger’s nickname growing up) had his bar mitzvah. Until that point, Salinger grew up experiencing a relatively normal childhood. (Biography.com) Perhaps one of the first more significant events of Salinger’s life did not come

until he was in secondary school. He was enrolled in the McBurney School on New York’s upper west side, until he ended up flunking out. When this happened his parents sent him away to Valley Forge Military Academy hundreds of miles away in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Here Salinger finishes up his high school career before

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returning home to New York. Once in New York he decides to set off for his next great adventure; Europe.

Salinger spends most of his time in Europe in Vienna, mastering the

language. Soon he grows tired of this and returns to Pennsylvania where he attends Ursinus College. Here he meets Whit Burnett, one of his professors. Burnett was not only a teacher but also the editor of Story magazine, which led to the take off of Salinger’s career as a writer. Acknowledging Salinger’s great ability, Burnett pushes him to write. Soon Salinger’s work is being published not only in Story, but several other magazines such as Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post.

Just as Salinger starts getting published and becoming known, his career has

to be put on hold due to the start of World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Salinger was drafted into the army. He served for two years, from 1942-­‐44, and took part in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. During his military service, Salinger continues his writing. In fact he shapes Holden Caulfield during his time in the military, the main character of soon to be one of the most controversial novels in American history.

After Salinger served in the military he was traumatized. After experiencing a

nervous breakdown he is hospitalized and the details regarding his hospitalization are never revealed. After Salinger’s time in the hospital, an interesting love life begins for him. After his release he marries a woman named Sylvia, whom he had met while hospitalized. She is German and believed to have been a Nazi at some point in her life. They are only married for 8 months before Salinger moves on. Next he marries Claire Douglas. She is the daughter of Robert Langdon Douglas, a wealthy

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British art critic. Married in 1955, the two stay together for over 10 years and have two children named Margaret and Matthew. The family resides in Cornish, New Hampshire in a fenced-­‐off, isolated farmhouse. Claire requests a divorce in 1966 and the two divorce by 1967. Details remain unknown but Claire requests this divorce due to a fear for her safety. After the divorce, Salinger remains in Cornish. Prior to their marriage Salinger returns to New York in an attempt to resume

his writing career. Once again he began writing for The New Yorker. Doing this work along with managing his marriage, Salinger also continues work on his upcoming novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and in 1951 it is published. To this day, over 120 million copies of the novel have been sold worldwide (Biography.com). Despite the apparent popularity of the novel, Salinger was not highly praised for his work by all. Make no mistake, The Catcher in the Rye did earn its share of positive reviews, but many critics solely discussed Salinger’s work in a negative manner (Biography.com). Some even said that the novel made Salinger appear crazy himself. After the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger and his family, as stated before, buy a home in rural New Hampshire to escape the chaos. Here he attempts to live as a recluse, only communicating with his immediate family. Salinger did not want any of the attention that came with the success of the novel. After the move he refused all visitors and when he was forced to talk to any interviewers, Salinger gave them false information. Prior to publication, Salinger had even cancelled a publishing meeting because of rumors that the firm believed

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Holden was mad. For the rest of his life, Salinger continued to have little to no contact with society other than through his works. The Catcher in the Rye was Salinger’s one and only novel to have been published. He considered himself a short story writer. He had over twenty magazine stories published as well as a collection entitled Nine Stories in 1953, and three novelettes; Franny and Zooey, Seymour: An Introduction, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters in 1963. He is believed to have written hundreds of other short stories and have at least 10 other finished novels hidden away in his home, all of which he refused to have published and would not allow to be published even after his death. Salinger also denied selling any of his stories to have movie rights. The last thing that Salinger had published while he was still alive was a 25,000 word work in 1965 entitled Hapworth 16, 1924. Six years after Salinger’s divorce from Claire, he begins another

relationship. This time he is seeing a college freshman, Joyce Maynard. The two got together after Salinger saw her story, “An 18-­‐year-­‐old looks back on life” in The New York Times Magazine (Biography.com). She moves in with Salinger in Cornish but after just 10 months he kicks her out. Not long after this Maynard sells love letters from Salinger, which brings her $156,00. Interestingly enough however, the buyer later returned these letters to Salinger. After the break up, Maynard also wrote a memoir about her experiences with Salinger. With nothing positive to say, Maynard describes Salinger as a bad and controlling person. Later on, in 2000, Salinger’s daughter Margaret also puts out a piece about the man, which draws many parallels to the previous work of Maynard.

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Despite his what seemed to be hostile relation with Maynard, Salinger continues searching for companionship until his death. There are reports of him dating Ellen Joyce, an actress and he ends up getting married one last time. He spends his last days married to a nurse named Colleen O’Neil. Salinger died on January 27th, 2010 at age 91 of natural causes. Overall, J.D. Salinger was a very well renowned author and is still popular to this day. His stories, dating back to when he was just in high school, have been some of the most talked about and controversial pieces of all time. Which is understandable due to the interesting occurrences that he has experienced in his lifetime. From flunking out of school, to being drafted into the army and being hospitalized, to the crazy love life that he experienced afterward provides insight and understanding to the cause of this mans actions. Salinger did an excellent job of expressing his strong opinion of society in the subtlest way possible, through his stories. With over 120 million copies sold to the day, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s only novel has been his most popular as well as influential work of all time. The story takes place in New York City in the 1950’s narrated by a character by the name of Holden Caulfield. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that Salinger’s audience has seen this character. In several of Salinger’s previous publications Holden has appeared. With each story Salinger proceeded to shape his character until it was fully developed, taking the spotlight in Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield may be one of the most popularly discussed and analyzed characters of all time. He is the protagonist of the story, a 16 year-­‐old boy living in

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New York City experiencing a relatively normal life until he starts telling his story. Despite the apparent development of Holden’s character, he is a teenage boy, perhaps a pathological liar, who constantly refers to society as “phony”. The story starts of with Holden being expelled from Pencey Academy, the private school that he is enrolled in in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. He was failing four out of five classes and therefore received a letter explaining his expulsion. This is the fourth school that he has flunked out of. Holden keeps up a careless attitude, expressing a lack of responsibility when he is kicked out. Holden visits one of his professors, Mr. Spencer, before leaving Pencey for good. They have a long discussion about Holden’s ability and why he doesn’t apply himself in school. Holden does not give away too much as to why, since he is still very reserved at this point in the novel, but it is apparent that Mr. Spencer is probably the only person that really cares about Holden at Pencey. Another thing that the audience finds out is that Holden had previously been hospitalized and under the watch of a psychoanalyst for some time. The reason being having to deal with the death of his brother Allie and perhaps to do with the suicide of one of his classmates. When Holden is expelled from Pencey, instead of returning home to Manhattan right away, he stays out in New York City, hopping from hotel to hotel. He runs into many interesting people along his way. He also breaks the law multiple times; entering gentlemen’s clubs and bars posing as someone of age to drink etc., and also purchasing strippers and using other women, although interested in sex he never ends up going through with anything. Despite

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this, Salinger introduces a very strong theme of rebellion and right to an opinion that is brand new to this era. The things that happen to him, memories that he recalls and people that he meets throw Holden into a deep depression. During this era, people experiencing these symptoms may have been considered crazy, not depressed, and put into a mental ward of some kind. By embracing Holden’s condition and nurturing it somewhat throughout his growth during the novel, Salinger opens a door for other people like Holden. He does this by sympathizing for them and bringing the situation of depression to light by identifying the symptoms. Throughout the book almost all symptoms of depression are seen in Holden. Sadness, anger, crying spells, loss of sexual desire and thoughts of death and suicide consume Holden. Salinger is known for this theme of contemporary society being permeated by hypocrisy, injustice, and a lack of love (Q Note). The only person that Holden really cares for in the novel is his kid sister, Phoebe. In fact, it is obvious that he really loves her and is fascinated by her. Eventually Holden breaks down and sneaks into his home without his parents knowing simply to see her. They end up having a conversation about what they want to be when they grow up and Holden confesses that he wants to be a “catcher in the rye”. He explains that he wants to protect children, or be a protector of some sort. This brings us to Salinger’s other reoccurring theme in his literature, which is the purity and innocence of childhood. After Holden’s visit with Phoebe he leaves again and is basically living on the street. He is still scared to face his parents after his expulsion from Pencey so he decides to run away, but he has to see Phoebe one more time. She tries to come

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along with him and ultimately ends up saving her brothers life. Holden’s moment of transformation embodies somewhat of a moment of enlightenment. He is watching Phoebe ride the carousel in the park, when he realizes change inevitable. He understands that that purity of childhood cannot remain forever but it will soon be corrupted by adulthood. This is the defining moment for Holden because he accepts change and finally learns to forgive the wrongdoing of others (Q note). The similarities between Salinger himself and the character of Holden that he creates are apparent. In a way Holden symbolizes the person that Salinger could not be himself. They both get kicked out of school and they both start their loves resenting society. But, unlike Salinger, Holden is able to break free of this and continue his life happily, instead of living as a recluse. Despite the parallels between Holden and Salinger, the novel is highly important in other mannerisms. In the 1950’s society was all about following the rules. The Catcher in the Rye was the first art form that encouraged a rebellious attitude. Salinger, by creating Holden and having him experience what he did, running away from home and shying away from the norms in society sparked the rebel that was inside of each American. Some critics accepted and appreciated him for this and others solely saw it having a negative impact. But, without this tone of rebellion ever occurring, where society would be now is unknown. The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most popular coming-­‐of-­‐age books that so greatly influenced and created the marvelous, rebellious and opinionated thriving society that we live in today.

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Bibliography

“J.D. Salinger Biography.” Biography.com. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. .

"J.D. Salinger." Goodreads. Web. 27 Jan. 2013. . Rowe, Joyce. “Holden Caulfield and American Protest.” J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Ed. Harold Bloom. Infobase, 2000. 105-18. Google Books. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. . Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Bantam, 1951. “The Catcher in the Rye: Background Info.” LitCharts.com. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. .

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Bibliography: “J.D. Salinger Biography.” Biography.com. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. .     "J.D. Salinger." Goodreads. Web. 27 Jan. 2013. . Rowe, Joyce. “Holden Caulfield and American Protest.” J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Ed. Harold Bloom. Infobase, 2000. 105-18. Google Books. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. . Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Bantam, 1951.   “The Catcher in the Rye: Background Info.” LitCharts.com. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. . 10

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