Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 in New York City. His parents were Sol and Marie Salinger. He had an older sister named Doris. There is very little personal information about Salinger because of his insistence on protecting his privacy.
J. D. earned average grades in grade school. At age thirteen, Salinger was enrolled in the prestigious McBurney School in Manhattan, but he was dismissed with failing grades after a year. He graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy. This school was the model for The Catcher in the Rye's Pencey Prep. There he wrote his first stories. He attended Ursinus University in Pennsylvania, but dropped out in the middle of his first semester. He instead took a course in short story writing at Columbia.
In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the army. He was a member of the Fourth Army Division that made D-Day famous. After WWII, he was hospitalized in Germany for psychiatric treatment. While in Germany, he met one of his heroes, Ernest Hemingway. He returned to the U. S. in 1947.
In 1951, Salinger's only full-length novel was published. However, it was the work that made him famous, and still sells some 250,000 copies annually. The novel took its title from a line by Robert Burns, in which the protagonist Holden Caulfied misquoting it sees himself as a 'catcher in the rye' who must keep the world's children from falling off 'some crazy cliff'. The 'Catcher in the Rye' is a story of a sixteen-year-old hero-narrator Holden Caulfield. He is full of despair and loneliness because of the "phony" post war era in which he is living. Knowing that he is about to be expelled from prep school for poor grades, Holden decides to run away just before Christmas. He spends the next few days wandering in New York City, describing in a mixture of schoolboy slang and poetry, his feelings about himself, his family, the world that surrounds him, and his quest for the true, the good, the real, and the innocent. Holden is thought by many to be the most similar to the author.
In 1953, he moved to Cornish, New Hampshire into a cottage overlooking the Connecticut River. Here he allowed himself to be interviewed by sixteen-year-old Shirley Blaney for the New Hampshire Daily Eagle. When he first moved to New Hampshire, Salinger spent a lot of his spare time with local teenagers; it was in 1953 that he published 'Nine Stories', a collection of short stories introducing the Glass family. Salinger published three other stories containing the Glass family; 'Franny and Zooey'(1961), Raise High the Roof Beam(1963), and The Carpenters(1964).
On February 17, 1955, J. D. married Claire Douglas. 'Franny' was written for her as a wedding present. J. D. and Claire had two children, Matthew and Peggy. The couple divorced in 1967. Since the late 80s Salinger has been married to Colleen O'Neill.
Over the years, Salinger withdrew from the public eye. He always refused to sign autographs, give lectures, give interviews, never consented to be in 'Who's Who', and kept an unlisted phone number. To protect his privacy, he built a fence surrounding his house. One neighbor said, "You can only get as far as the garage. The only way to get to the house is by going through a 50-foot cement tunnel from the garage. The tunnel is patrolled by dogs, and the house is situated on a hill so he could see you coming for miles."
Because of J. D. Salinger's insistence on persevering his privacy and the willingness of his family and friends to assist him in doing so, little biographical information on Salinger is available, especially regarding his later life. Moreover, Salinger's habit of deliberately misleading would-be biographers with false information further complicates the picture; nevertheless, some elements of Salinger's biography are generally accepted as true.
Rumors spread from time to time, that Salinger will publish another novel, but from late 60's he has successfully avoided publicity. "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure," said Salinger in 1974 to a New York Times correspondent. However, according to Joyce Maynard, who was close to the author for a long time from the 1970s, Salinger still writes, but nobody is allowed to see the work.
Jerry Burt of Plainfield, N.H., who was friends with Salinger in the 1960s and lives near the author, told The Associated Press that Salinger said in 1978 that he'd written 15 or 16 other books. Burt said the books were apparently hidden in a walk-in safe in Salinger's home. During a visit, he saw the safe open, but said it was dark inside and he couldn't tell if there were any books. "He told me he had his finished manuscripts in there," Burt said. "I didn't see them. Who knows now? He may have burned them all. He may have published them under another name. He didn't have any idea at the time what he was going to do with them. J. D. loathes the corporate aspects of publishing. He has had his agents burn or throw away his correspondence.
Some of his works include 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish', which introduced Seymour Glass, who commits suicide; 'Franny and Zooey'; 'Raise the High Roof Beam'; 'Carpenters'; 'Seymour: An Introduction'; 'Nine Stories', and 'Hapworth 16, 1924'.
'The Catcher in the Rye', the only Salinger book that I have had the pleasure of reading, has been coated in controversy since it was banned in America after it's first publication. John Lennon's assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book the day that he murdered Lennon. Police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the psychologically disturbed Chapman. However, the book itself contains nothing that could be attributed with leading Chapman to act as he did. It could have been any book that he was reading the day he decided to kill John Lennon, and as a result of the fact that it was The Catcher in the Rye, a book describing a nervous breakdown, media speculated widely about the possible connection. This gave the book even more notoriety. So what is The Catcher in the Rye actually about?
Superficially, Catcher is story of a young man's expulsion from yet another school. Holden Caufield, a teenager growing up in 1950's New York, has been expelled from school for poor achievement once again. In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to 'take a vacation' before returning to his parents' inevitable wrath. Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden's thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he reveals a developing nervous breakdown, symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behavior.
However, during his psychological battle, life continues on around Holden as it always had, with the majority of people ignoring him. Progressively through the novel we are challenged to think about how society views each other. Does our society deliberately ignore our existence and ever-present sense of isolation? And if so, when Caufield begins to probe and investigate his own sense of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that the world is full of 'phonies' with each one out for their own phony gain, is Holden actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost it's mind for failing to acknowledge the hopelessness of their own lives?
Holden's hunting cap seems to be a symbol of his individuality and his "hunting" or searching for meaning in life. Though most people in his society would not wear such a cap because it was not fashionable, Holden wears it because it is useful, with padded earpads for the cold, and waterproofing for the rain. The cap was also used and not very expensive. This seems to indicate that he has not bought into the materialistic value of society. Though this gives him an individuality that he so desperately is searching for, it also alienates him. In the end Holden gives the hunting cap to his sister Phoebe. This seems to symbolize the passing on of something he has learned in his adolescence, something no school could ever teach him, the valuing of individuality. Because he loved his sister so much, he wanted her to become in individual herself, not just another phony in a phony society. He determines that he is the sensible one in the world. Many people can identify with Holden because we all feel in some way isolated. This is the basis for the story. The reader identifies with Holden because he/she feels isolated as well. However, Salinger makes us rethink our relation to Holden when he describes diagnosed condition.
The "Catcher in the Rye" is Holden's dream; it is what he wants to become. It is the guardian of innocence and the innocents. The "catcher" symbolizes Holden's belief that innocence is lost when one realizes the true "phoniness" of society. He wants to protect his sister and the other innocents from this phoniness. This idea is represented by the children playing in a field of rye on the edge on a cliff. Holden would be the guardian of the children, catching them if they were ever to fall off the edge. Holden's desire to be the "catcher in the rye" symbolizes his desire to establish a moral order, one that would transcend the false security of materialism. He wants to save his sister from this value of society.
Holden is similar to his creator, J. D. Salinger, in many ways. Salinger, like Holden, although very bright, had trouble with school. They were both kicked out of prep schools. Another way that Holden is like Salinger is that they both spent time in a mental institution. Holden is actually telling this story from inside of an institution. Holden and Salinger also both had sisters that they adored and respected. Holden's sister, Pheobe, is about the only person throughout the novel that he speaks very highly of.
Salinger's works often reflect his own life. In his celebrated story 'For Esme - With Love and Squalor' Salinger depicted a fatigued American soldier, who starts correspondence with a thirteen-year-old British girl, which helps him to get a grip of life again. Salinger himself was hospitalized for stress according to his biographer Ian Hamilton. Twenty stories published in Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and New Yorker between 1941 and 1948 appeared in 1974 in a pirated edition called 'The Complete Uncollected Stories of J.D. Salinger's. Many of the stories reflect Salinger's own service in the army. All of his characters, Holden, his family, the Glass family, etc. depict aspects of his own life. In an interview in 1974, referring to his life Salinger stated, "It's all in the books, all you have to do is read them."