J. D. Salinger
Episode #10 of the course “Significant American writers of the 20th century”
Known most prominently for The Catcher in the Rye, Jerome David “J.D.” Salinger had always been a writer. As a figure of both scrutiny and acclaim (depending on public opinion toward his novel), Salinger often caught attention for his own choices. His affair at 53 years old with an 18-year-old writer, which she published about in the 1990s, was only one of the many things that kept his name in America’s thoughts. He experienced several public affairs, lawsuits, and struggles with being recognized for his writing.
Born in 1919, Salinger was raised in Manhattan, New York, and published a few stories before being drafted into the Army in 1942. He was active in the D-Day operations, and because of his ability to speak several languages, he was assigned to interrogate prisoners as a counterintelligence agent. Affected by his experiences, Salinger returned to the US and began publishing short stories in magazines. In 1948, he finally earned acclaim for several short stories with The New Yorker, and he continued to publish with them until 1965.
In 1951, Salinger released The Catcher in the Rye, a novel including a character he wrote about as far back as 10 years prior. The teenager Holden Caulfield recounts a rebellious drunken romp through Manhattan, including encounters with prostitutes and law enforcement, after his expulsion from a prestigious preparatory school. An instant success, the novel was also an instant controversy. It was scrutinized for its content, characters, plot, and use of more expletives than any novel to that point. Banned in schools throughout the 1950s, the novel also became a symbol of rebellion and a new definition of “cool.”
Salinger increasingly became frustrated with the publishing industry and refused all offers for movie production rights to his works. In 1965, Salinger removed himself from the public limelight, continuing to write for himself and for his own pleasure. At the time of his death in 2010, it is estimated that he left nearly 20 finished but unpublished works neatly filed away in his home.
“He said I was unequipped to meet life because I had no sense of humor.”
“I mean—except you—who do we know in New York except a bunch of neurotics?”
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
“I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”
“How do you know you’re going to do something, until you do it?”
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