J.D. Salinger 2 Essay, Research Paper
Jerome David Salinger, known as J.D., is an American short story writer and novelist. He was born on January 1, 1919 and is still alive at the age of 81. J.D. Salinger was born and raised in Manhattan. He went to prep school at Valley Forge Military Academy from 1934-1936. He spent 5 months in Europe when he was 18 or 19 years old. Then, in 1937 and 1938 he studied at Ursinus College and New York University. From 1939 to 1942, he went to Columbia University where he decided to become a writer. Salinger published short story collections and one novel. His best known work, The Catcher in the Rye, was published in 1951. The short stories he wrote were Nine Stories in 1953, Franny and Zooey in 1961, Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963, Young Folk in 1940 and A Perfect Day for Bananafish in 1948. Many critics have considered J.D. Salinger a very controversial writer because of the subject matters he wrote about. For example Salinger wrote about religion, intellectuals, emotional struggles of adolescents, loneliness and symbolism (Jones).
Some critics feel his writing was inappropriate because of the topics he wrote about. The main characters were considered misfits of society. The characters generally did not fit in with traditional American culture. They could not adjust to the real world. However, Salinger s most successful stories are the ones about people who could not adjust. The super-intelligent humans who had to choose between the American culture at that time and the moral world, or choose between the phony real world and the morally pure world. Salinger creates these misfits, as heroes who do not fit into society. They struggle between the two worlds shallow and moral. The leading characters are on a mission of happiness. At first, Salinger does not lead the characters to material happiness; he has them start out in a bad situation. By the time they make it through the end of the story they have changed for the better. One of these characters that he writes about in this situation is Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye. He starts off in a bad situation because he has just flunked out of his third private boarding school. He finally gives up life on his own in Manhattan and returns home in solitude where he finds happiness. The critics found these situations that the characters were in debatable (Hamilton 113).
In Franny and Zooey, Franny and Zooey Glass are an example of Salinger s misfit characters of the 60s. They are brother and sister who are super-intelligent freaks and cannot deal with society or reality. The controversy comes when they must chose between Salinger s two worlds the real or phony. Their older brothers teach them Zen Buddhism and many other religions and philosophies. Salinger uses this religious theme with these two characters to show how they have to deal with their world of religion and how they have to stop using religion to deal with their problems (Green). This religious theme was a controversial one for the author. Salinger often uses religion for comfort. He leads his characters on a journey for happiness through religion. It is a way to free them. Salinger uses much of the Zen philosophy to attain this freedom. The Zen Philosophy was a new sect of Buddhism that came out of China. It promoted Meditation as the way to personal fulfillment ( Zen 146).
One of Salinger s characters in Nine Stories has a certain philosophy about life that runs parallel to the Eightfold Path used in the Buddhism religion. The Eightfold Path is one of the four Noble Truths. It is a path to the suppression of suffering and it is made up of eight parts that form the cornerstone of the Buddhist faith. Buddha wanted to be liberated in his life just like the character in Salinger s work who eventually achieves nirvana, the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path, by committing suicide. In this way, he lets go of all the suffering and attains happiness. It is a controversial way to view happiness. Religion is a force in the story to create happiness. Many times the story is very depressing until religion is introduced and peace is attained ( Buddhism 432-433).
Salinger also shows a quest for happiness through loneliness. He isolates his characters from society. This is also a controversial point for critics. Keeping his characters isolated helps to keep them away from evil. Salinger looks at society as a bad thing. He keeps his characters away from it because he thinks that is the only way to achieve happiness. The entire plot of the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, revolves around this. The main character, Holden Caufield, is isolated from society. Salinger uses society as a bad and evil thing. It is something that Salinger feels his character should be kept away from. Eventually this main character ends up totally alone at the end of the novel in isolation. He finds happiness through this isolation. According to Salinger, it is this isolation that brings happiness to his character. This misfit character needs to be isolated from a society that looks at him in a strange way. Salinger uses loneliness as a way to change his life (Foskett). Salinger is able to use loneliness as a way to change the life of Seymour Glass in a short story Raise the Roof Beam High. Seymour sees society as corrupt and has a need to change his lifestyle to become happy. There is no compassion for people in society and he feels he must change it. In order for him to do that he must first isolate himself from that society. Salinger uses this loneliness theme to make his characters change their lifestyles. This loneliness theme benefits the characters because they attain happiness by living their own lives (Green).
Salinger uses some symbolism in his works to show happiness. There was lucky underwear in Soft-Boiled Sergeant. This lucky underwear saves the character in battle and helps him find the love of his life. This character obtains happiness (French 59). Many times Salinger uses odd lucky symbols for the characters to find happiness. The sun is used as a lucky symbol in The Esme. The character in this story has his life turned around by the inspiration of the sun. Again, a bad situation for the character in the beginning of the story. Salinger also uses symbolism in his works to foreshadow a better life. In Long Debut of Louis Taggett the symbol of putting out a cigarette symbolizes the end of a marriage. It is the end of a marriage for Louis Taggett, which is good for his life. This character is now able to think more about his job. He now meets the woman that will really love him. He will also find wealth and prosperity (58). This is another example of how Salinger uses symbolism to predict a better life. Louis Taggett has suffered many hardships. His life is a total mess but it does gets better. Still another example of foreshadowing a better life is shown in The Last Day of the Last Furlough. Salinger uses symbolism in this story through the character of John Hendren. Symbolism is used by Salinger for the character to fulfill his pursuit for happiness. John Hendren, a World War II soldier, has always wore a large wooden necklace which was given to him by his mother. It is this same necklace that stops a bullet and saves his life. He is later given a medal of respect for his valiant effort. It is yet another example of Salinger using symbolism to provide happiness in people s lives (60).
Many of J.D. Salinger s works have a quest for happiness through controversial means. Religion, loneliness and symbolism are used to bring his characters from a bad situation at the beginning of the story to a good situation at the end of the story: happiness. They learn about their lives by going through various struggles, all in the name of happiness. He used religion, loneliness and symbolism as a way for the characters to understand how obtainable happiness is in their life. Salinger was considered controversial during the time period when he wrote because he was a maverick: independent of any group. He went against society to show how wrong he thought it was. He has made the reader see what was wrong during this time period in a very different and controversial way (Hamilton 32).
Buddhism Funk & Wagnall s New Encyclopedia (1986 ed.), 4, 432-433.
Foskett, S. Bananafish Characters FAQ. Concentric Network. 6 February 2000.
French, Warren. J.D. Salinger. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc, 1963.
Green, Becky S. Biographical Sketch. Pennsylvania University. 7 February 2000.
Hamilton, Ian. In Search of J.D. Salinger. New York: Random House Inc, 1988.
Jones, Bonsey. Biographical Notes: J.D. Salinger. FringeWare, Inc. 7 February 2000.
Zen Funk & Wagnall s New Encyclopedia (1986 ed.), 28, 146