Jerome Salinger Essay

Born on January 1, 1919, Jerome David Salinger was to become one of America’s
greatest contemporary authors. In 1938 Salinger briefly attended Ursinus College
in Pennsylvania where he wrote a column, “Skipped Diploma,” which featured
movie reviews for his college newspaper. Salinger made his writing debut when he
published his first short story, “The Young Folks,” in Whit Burnett’s
Story magazine (French, xiii). He was paid only twenty-five dollars. In 1939, at
the age of 20, Salinger had not acquired any readers. He later enrolled in a
creative writing class at Columbia University. Salinger was very much interested
in becoming an actor and a playwright, which was quite odd because he would
later in life become a recluse (Wenke, 3). Salinger adjusted his writing style
to fit the literary marketplace. He was writing for money and began writing for
magazines like Good Housekeeping and Mademoiselle. Many of Salinger’s
characters have unique character traits. “Salinger presents a number of
stories that consider characters who become involved in degrading, often phony
social contexts,” states a major critic (Wenke, 7). These characters are often
young and have experienced a lot of emotional turmoil. They have been rejected
by society and mainly categorized as “misfits.” This alienation of the
personality is often viewed as a sign of weakness by society when in fact the
outcasts ultimately gain strength from their experiences as shown in Nine
Stories, The Catcher in the Rye, and Franny and Zooey. Salinger is telling a
tale of the human condition in its reality through his novels. Nine Stories is a
collection of short stories of people who are uncertain of the next path to take
in life. They are lonely, needy, and searching for love. One of these stories,
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” is the story of a young couple who try to
understand their life together and the true meaning of love. Seymour Glass has
just been released from the Army Hospital and he is unable to adjust to life
with his “crass wife Muriel amidst the lavish and vulgar atmosphere of their
post-war second honeymoon” (Gwynn ; Blotner, 19). It has often been called”the loveless tunnel of love.” Salinger portrays Muriel in the first part of
the story as superficial. She believes that everything and everyone operates on
her time: She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She
looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached
puberty. Muriel has an indifferent attitude about life. She seems simple and
very insecure. Muriel finds it funny that her husband calls her “Miss
Spiritual Tramp of 1948.” This tells the reader that she lacks self- esteem.

Her simple attitude shows when she is talking to her mother on the phone about
going to Bingo one night: “Anyway, after Bingo he and his wife asked me if I
wouldn’t like to join them for a drink. So I did. His wife was horrible. You
remember that awful dinner dress we saw in Bonwit’s window? The one you said
that you’d have to have a tiny, tiny.” Muriel implies that she disliked the
lady because of what she was wearing. She alienates herself from society by
believing that she is better that everyone else. Because of Muriel’s
personality, Seymour cannot confide in her or feel any love in his marriage.

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This is why he turns to the little girl at the beach for companionship. Seymour
finds a friend and a listener in Sybil. But the friendship of Sybil cannot mend
Seymour’s broken heart. He gains some strength in himself when he finds a
friend in Sybil, but he cannot seem to get past his failed marriage. Seymour is
so desperate for love that he commits suicide: Then he went over to one of the
pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he
took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at
it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on
the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol and fired a bullet
through his right temple. “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” is a story about a
young woman who tries to make sense out of all the confusion in her life. Eloise
finds a loyal and trustworthy friend in Mary Jane. They are on the same path in
life. Salinger suggests that they have stayed friends for so long because
neither of them graduated from college. Eloise left college because she was
caught with a soldier in the elevator. Mary Jane left college because she was to
marry a soldier in jail. Eloise feels like an outsider in her own family. She
makes a comment about her daughter looking more like her husband and his mother.

She says that when the three of them are together they look like triplets.

Ramona, Elosie’s daughter, appears to be the only person who is free to be who
she wants to be. Ramona has a childlike, spontaneous imaginative power and she
is on the verge of these qualities being taken from her by her mother who is
referred to as “Uncle Wiggily (Bloom, 83). Uncle Wiggily represents a person
that is standing in the way of Ramona being her true self. In essence, Eloise
envies her daughter Ramona. Ramona is the one who does as she pleases, such as
scratching herself and picking her nose at any time. Ramona is the stronger of
the two, mentally. Eloise resents Ramona’s imaginary friend Jimmy Jimmerono.

One critic explains, “But Jimmy stands in the same relation to Ramona as Walt
does to Eloise?a symbol of the secret image of love, unhampered by awful
reality”(Gwynn ; Blotner, 22). Walt is Eloise’s old love. Ramona
displays Jimmy’s physical characteristics as being unique, while Walt is
unique because of his humor and tenderness. At the end of the story Eloise had
still not been saved. When she is drunk she feels free to be herself and express
herself. Eloise learns the true meaning of love with her past experience with
Walt. She learns to love herself and is willing to move on in life knowing that
it will get better with time. Salinger’s greatest masterpiece, The Catcher in
the Rye, has served as a “firestorm for controversy and debate” (Lomazoff,
1). The way that Salinger portrayed Holden Caulfield has been a factor in the
controversial nature of this book. Holden is a strong-minded person with
strong-minded opinions of the world and the people. His uncanny personality
makes the reader want to question his sanity. Holden has reached a point in his
life where he doesn’t care anymore. He has flunked out of three Pennsylvania
prep schools. This symbolizes that Holden is not truly ready for the adult world
even though he believes that he is. He refuses to work to his full potential.

Holden is a little boy playing grown-up. He is self-centered and very arrogant:
Then I tried to get them in a little intelligent conversation, but it was
practically impossible, you had to twist their arms. You could hardly tell which
was the stupidest of the three of them. He puts other people’s social behavior
down as if to say that he is of higher intelligence, “They didn’t invite me
to sit down at their table?mostly because they were ignorant?but I sat down
anyway.” This shows Holden’s impatient nature. Another odd quality of
Holden’s is that he believes that the world we live in and the people that we
live with are phony. An early example of this in the novel is when Old Spencer
is telling Holden about how great his parents are and Holden responds in a
negative fashion: “Grand” there is a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I
could just puke every time I hear it. The center issue of Holden’s perception
of falseness in this world is his inability to communicate with other people. He
wants to be a loner and stay by himself: “I figured that I could get a job at
a filling station somewhere, putting gas in other people’s cars. I didn’t
care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people don’t know me and I
don’t know anybody. I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of
those deaf mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any god dam stupid useless
conversation with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they’d have
to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They’d get bored as
hell doing that after a while, and then I’d be through with having
conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody’d think I was just a poor
deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone… I’d cook all my own food, and
latter on, if I wanted to get married or something, I’d meet this beautiful
girl that was also deaf-mute and we’d get married. She’d come and live in my
cabin with me, and if she wanted to say something to she’d have to write it
down on a piece of paper, like everybody else”. Holden truly hates all the
phoniness in this world that he doesn’t want to communicate with anyone, even
his soon-to-be-wife. This depicts Holden’s innocence. He has his whole life
planned out and he believes that this is really going to happen. Holden might
think that he is ready for adulthood but from someone else’s point of view he
sounds that he is very unsure of adulthood. Holden’s innocence is also
portrayed in a more sincere fashion when he is talking to his sister, Phoebe,
about a vision that he had, “I keep picturing all these little kids playing
some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and
nobody’s around?nobody big, I mean?except me. And I’m standing on the
edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they
start to go over the cliff?I mean if they’re running and they don’t look
where they are going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s
all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know
it’s crazy, but that’s the only I’d really like to be. I know it’s
crazy.” Holden believes that he can save little children from all the hurt and
pain in the world. Holden is really a good guy stuck in a bad world and he is
trying to make the best out of all the misfortunes that come his way, but his is
loosing the battle. “Whereas he aims for stability and truth, the adult world
cannot survive without suspense and lies. It is a testament to his innocence and
decent spirit that Holden would place the safety and well-being of children as a
goal in his lifetime” (Lomazoff, 8). This innocent trait that Holden poses
makes him to openly show his affection for his sister. He wants the best for
her. Holden makes her life his first priority. When Phoebe tries to leave her
school to follow Holden, he is instantly against it. The disappointed look on
Phoebe’s face at Holden’s refusal breaks his heart. Holden takes Phoebe to
the park to make up for this. Holden’s attitude about life gradually changes
as he watches Phoebe on the carrousel: I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the
way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so
damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that
she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue
coat and all. When Holden promises that he would return home Phoebe becomes
happy again. The bond between Holden and Phoebe is very strong. She is his
inspiration and he is her role model. Holden wants to do right in his life for
Phoebe. He wants to be a better person for her. Franny and Zooey is the story of
a young girl who feels alone in the world. Franny Grass suffers an emotional and
spiritual breakdown while attending college. She has abandoned all of her hopes
and dreams, and the only pleasure she has in life is reading from her little
pea-green book. Loneliness is an emotional affliction that is very widespread in
our society (Gelinas, 5). It affects everyone at any point of his or her lives.

Franny clearly suffers from this affliction. She writes a letter to Lane Coutell,
her boyfriend, telling him that she is coming out to visit him. The letter is
emotional and happy, this is ironic because when Franny visits Lane she is
anything but happy. Lane meets Franny at the train station to pick her up. There
is an immediate tension between the two because they have not seen each other in
while. Nevertheless, they try to ignore it. When they arrive at the restaurant,
Lane dominates the conversation. He is unaware, for the most part, that Franny
has hardly said a word. Franny accepts the idea of Lane playing a dominant role
in their relationship. She understands that they are not on equal standing.

Despite this, Franny believes that she has found love with her boyfriend. She
adores him as much as any girlfriend adores her boyfriend. Franny is often
afraid of not being on the same level as Lane. In one example Lane is reminding
Franny of his that she met some time ago: “Oh. I remember… Listen, don’t
hate me because I can’t remember some person immediately. Especially when they
look like everybody else, and talk and dress and act like everybody else.” It
is clearly obvious that she is afraid of not living up to his expectations.

Franny doesn’t see Lane as her soul mate, she is with him because of her fear
of being lonely: She found herself looking at Lane as if he was a stranger, or a
poster advertising a brand of linoleum, across the aisle of a subway car. Again
she felt the trickle of disloyalty and guilty, which seemed to be the order of
the day, and reacted to it by reaching over to cover Lane’s hand with her own.

Two surprises take place during dinner. Franny tells Lane that she has quit
drama at school. Lane is shocked because he knows that Franny loves acting and
she is good at it. When Franny excuses herself the second time, she faints on
the way to the bathroom. Lane is very worries and insists that she rest. But
again, Franny is putting Lane’s needs before her own by encouraging him that
she is okay and they could still have a nice night. The second part of the story
takes place when Franny has returned home to get some rest. Her brother, Zooey
Glass, and their mother are very concerned about her. He believes that the
little pea-green book that Franny has is clear foolishness. He insists on giving
Franny advice on life or about any issue of the moment. Franny finds herself
still stressed with her mother forcing her to eat chicken soup and her
brother’s constant nagging. Zooey is a straightforward person. He sees the
false love in Franny’s and Lane’s relationship even though they do not.

Towards the end of the novel, Franny starts to consider her brother’s advice.

He tells her that it is not wise to be caught up in her book. He tells her that
she can still be an actress and know God. In essence, he tells her that their
family is very different from other families, and what you decide to do with
your life determines the type of person that you are. Franny takes Zooey’s
advice to heart. She finally understands who she is and begins to put her life
in perspective. Franny now knew what to do with her life and she was content:
For some minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless Sleep, she just lay
quite, smiling at the ceiling. J.D. Salinger, a master of contemporary writing,
has astounded his audiences for years. The common theme expressed in many of
Salinger’s novels is the alienated personality. He has a way of capturing this
theme through his characters. Due to this alienation many of these characters
experience loneliness, unhappiness, uncertainty, and the feeling of being lost:
“He moves steadily away from old-fashioned stories of the sort that lead us to
believe that life has leading characters and minor characters, important details
and unimportant details, beginnings, middles, ends” (Bryfonski, 521). Many
critics acclaim that Nine Stories and The Catcher in The Rye are Salinger’s
most famous and important works (Bryfonski, 521). The Glass family saga starting
in Nine Stories and continuing in and ending in Franny and Zooey shows how the
lack of love and the influence of society can lead to destruction unless you
find enough inner strength to rise above it. Many of Salinger’s characters are
connected to other fictional characters by other authors. In The Catcher in The
Rye, the young Holden Caulfield is compared by critics to Huckleberry Finn: He
has a colloquialism as marked as Huck’s…Like Huck, Holden is neither comical
or misanthrope. He is an observer. Unlike Huck, he makes judgements by the
dozen, but these are not to be taken seriously; they are concepts (Lomazoff, 7).

Holden is also compared to Hamlet but to a lesser degree; they are both not
totally in the minds. The majority of Salinger’s characters learn from being
alienated. Through learning this one aspect, they gain strength from it to move


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