In many works of fiction, the life experiences and views of the authors are often reflected in their work creating captivating novels. Jerome David Salinger or J. D Salinger as he is better known became one of the most interesting authors in American literature, along with his famed character Holden Caulfield from the famous novel Catcher in the Rye published on July 16, 1951 (French 16). Like many authors, J. D. Salinger incorporated main parts of his autobiography into the life of his novel’s main character, Holden.
Soon after publication the novel was highly acclaimed by people all over the world paving the way for its continued fame today (Bloom 10). James Miller Jr. said that “No other writer since World War II has achieved the heights of popularity of J. D Salinger. And his popularity has rested primarily on one hero, Holden Caulfield, and one book, Catcher in the Rye” (Miller 5). It is no surprise that with reviews like this Salinger would slowly make his entrance into the spotlight; however, Salinger feared being in the public eye as a celebrity (Bloom 10).
As a result, he went into isolation in New Hampshire where little was seen or heard from him thereafter (Bloom 10). With all the documents, and different accounts of his life from people who knew Salinger, the world can now see that the mysterious life of one of the most famous authors in American literature is not so mysterious after all. The portrait of Holden Caufield was painted by J. D. Salinger using his major life experiences of his home and schooling and his views on religion, war, love, and life.
As a result, Holden is portrayed as an inherently good adolescent boy full of innocence and rebellion, wary of societal faults and filled with reluctance to enter into an adult world. Born on January 1, 1919, in New York City to Sol and Miriam Salinger Jerome David Salinger was raised his Jewish father and a Irish Catholic mother (French 21). At the age of eleven he was enrolled in an upscale Manhattan preparatory school called the McBurney School in Manhattan (5). However, he failed out after one year (22). In September of 1934 Salinger was enrolled in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania and graduated two years later (22).
In the beginning of Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, a young adolescent, attends Pency Prep in Pennsylvania after having failed out of three other schools. He receives a letter that tells him he has failed four out of his five classes and will be expelled (Salinger; Chapter 6). Holden’s school experience is reflective of Salinger’s and builds a foundation for Holden’s struggle with growing up that is a continuing theme throughout the novel. As Salinger entered his teenage years, he learned of a family secret that would shake his faith in organized religion.
As mentioned earlier Salinger’s father was Jewish while his mother was Irish Catholic (French 21). When Salinger was growing up, he believed that both his mother and his father were Jewish (Mori). After his bar mitzvah, a confirming of boys in the Jewish faith, Salinger discovered that his mother was in fact a Catholic. He was furious that the truth was kept from his for all those years (Mori). Because a lie was linked to religion during Salinger’s adolescence, a very impressionable time in a young person’s life, he developed a dislike for organized religion.
In Catcher in the Rye Salinger’s view of religion is given to Holden. For example, in the novel Holden meets two Catholic nuns in a sandwich shop, and he starts to talk with them. Holden says he does not like organized religion, but he talks with them a little longer, and winds up making them take ten dollars as a charitable contribution. This gesture shows that although Holden may not believe in organized religion, he is a good person who does what is right. When Holden does this in the novel it all lines up with the events in Salinger’s life as a child.
After his mother lied to him about her religion, he felt as if he owed something to Catholics. This is why Salinger has his character Holden give these nuns his money, because this is Salinger’s way of making things right in his own life (Salinger; Chapter 15). Both Salinger and Holden strive to do what is right, and this is accomplished through Holden’s charitable donation. In his life J. D. Salinger loved and lost, and as a result developed different feelings towards things that reminded him of his pain.
In 1941, Salinger became involved with a lady by the name of Oona O’Neil, the daughter of Eugene O’Neil, a famous American playwright (Mori). However, the United States became entered World War II, and Salinger was drafted (French 24). Salinger was then sent to Signal Corps School, and then transferred to Counter-Intelligence Corps (French 24-25). During this time, he sent letters to Oona almost every day (French 25). Despite all the work of Salinger to keep his beloved girlfriend, she found another man. Forty-four years of age, this man was much older than eighteen year old Oona (Mori).
The man she fell in love with, was a man by the name of Charlie Chaplin, a famous actor, producer and director (French 25). Even though Oona’s father disapproved of it Chaplin and O’Neil ended up getting married in 1943 (Mori). When Salinger found this out he was devastated, and he sent Oona an angry letter in return. This event in Salinger’s life can be found in his novel Catcher in the Rye when Holden’s roommate at Pency Prep, Stradlater, goes on a date with Holden’s “childhood girlfriend” Jane Ghallager (Mori).
When Stradlater gets back from his date with Jane, Holden is holding his anger inside because he knows that Stradlater is older and more sexually experienced and does not want anything to happen to Jane. When he confronts Stradlater about the date, Stradlater does not want to tell him anything. This gets Holden very angry and he snaps and attacks Stradlater (Salinger; Chapter 6). Not only is this reflective of J. D. Salinger’s experience with his girlfriend, but also it further develops Holden’s character as an innocent young man who is fighting to hold on to his childhood through his “childhood girlfriend. Salinger’s disapproval and disgust of Hollywood and celebrity life is a trait that may have also stemmed from his anger towards the director his girlfriend left him for. This view is also taken on by Holden. Holden’s older brother, D. B. , is not very involved in Holden’s life. As a result, he is not mentioned often, but when he does come up Holden tells the reader that his brother is a sellout to Hollywood. Holden describes people from Hollywood as “phony” (Salinger; chapter 26). In Catcher in the Rye Holden said “In the first place, I hate actors. They never act like people.
They just think they do. Some of the good ones do, in a very slight way, but not in a way that’s fun to watch. And if any actor’s good, you can always tell he knows he’s good, and that spoils it” (Salinger 152). It is hardly coincidental that that Salinger’s character in the novel is disgusted at Hollywood, and Salinger’s girlfriend who broke up with him also sold out to Hollywood by marrying an actor, producer and director. Salinger’s pain of losing his girlfriend is also linked to his feelings about the war since she left him while he was away fighting.
During World War II Salinger was sent to Normandy invasion for D-Day, and served with the Army Fourth Division, and landed on Utah beach. After that, Salinger was sent home with combat stress reaction (Bloom 10). In Catcher in the Rye Holden said, “Anyway, I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will”(Salinger 183). This may seem to relate to Salinger’s view on war; however, it may also be a reflection to his feelings post war.
If this quote is interpreted as Salinger talking, he is in fact saying that he would volunteer to die in the war. Perhaps he is saying that he would have rather died in battle than to have come home to the heartache that he experienced when his girlfriend left him. Love plays an important role in this novel because relationships help to shape a person through adolescence by helping them to grow and mature. In Salinger’s life he was married and divorced twice (Bloom 10). This broken heartedness and failed attempts at love have been put into the story of Holden.
The people that Holden had these failed relationships with were Jane Gallagher, his old girlfriend from when he was younger that his roommate Stradlater dated and with whom he got in a fight with, and a prostitute named Sunny (Mori). Sunny’s story in Catcher in the Rye starts off when Holden gets to a hotel, and is in the elevator going up to his room. He runs into a man on the elevator who is a pimp. He offers Holden a prostitute, Sunny, for five dollars. At that time Holden is depressed, and annoyed at the recent events that have took place before, and he agrees.
He winds up never having sex with the girl, and he pays her the money, and just tells her to leave because he was just so nervous and depressed (Salinger; chapter 13). Again, this shows Holden’s struggle with growing up. Because the only relationship he ever knew was an innocent childhood love, he did not know how to deal with the complete opposite relationship of a one night stand. For Holden, the broken relationship with Jane during his adolescence impaired his ability to have a normal relationship as an adult.
Because he was hurt in the situation with Stradlater and Jane, Holden was searching for the complete opposite in a relationship with Sunny which was not right for him either. Throughout the novel there is the resounding theme that what one experiences while growing up has a major impact on one’s experiences that one encounters during the rest of one’s life. Salinger’s life has been a mystery to many. He simply did not like being in the public eye. For one of the most famous authors in American literature, he is the one we know the least about.
Interviews with Salinger were rare, and public appearances did not happen. However, as we look back at all the information we have about this mysterious author, we can see that he spoke to his reader’s about his life through his famed character Holden Caulfield. Holden’s life in the novel by J. D Salinger is almost an autobiography of the least known about and most popular author in history. However, in reading Catcher in the Rye one realizes that Salinger has opened up to the public and revealed to the world many of the deepest and most private struggles of his youth and life.
Salinger recently passed away on January 27, 2010 at the age of 91, in Cornish, New Hampshire. The place where he died was the same place he fled to when he was younger to escape the view of the American public and press. In fact, he never left that town; he stayed there until his death. Everything we have now is just a memory of a great American soldier and author, and a novel that secretly tells the life of this great man who served our country in times of war and protected our freedoms and freedoms of generations for years to come.