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JD Salinger

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English Literature

J.D. Salinger, the author of the famous coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, draws you into the minds of sensitive rebels without a cause and quiet moments within the gritty New York City. Salinger himself grew up in New York and his personal experiences can be deeply felt in the writing of his stories and characters.

J.D. Salinger Biography StudySmarterJerome David Salinger in 1950commons.wikimedia.org

J.D. Salinger's biography

Jerome David Salinger was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for his classic coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Salinger's school and military experiences heavily influenced his writing. His writing is known for its personal, colloquial, first-person narration.

Facts about J.D. Salinger

  • J.D. Salinger was an American author who lived from 1919 to 2020.
  • Salinger grew up in New York City, and later lived a reclusive life on his estate in New Hampshire.
  • Salinger's most famous books are The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and Nine Stories.
  • Salinger is known for writing about the experience of teenagers who experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Salinger served in World War II and suffered a nervous breakdown.
  • Salinger is known for his characters' realistic dialogue.

J.D. Salinger's life

J.D. Salinger's life directly influenced his writing. Many aspects of his own experience and personality are reflected in his characters. Salinger drew much inspiration for the main character and narrator of The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Holden Caulfield, from his own life. His experience serving in World War II and suffering a nervous breakdown are also reflected in his works. For example, the short story, 'For Esmé'—with Love and Squalor (1950), about a sergeant who meets a clever, young girl from a church choir before being sent to fight in World War II.

Salinger's childhood

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on New Year's Day—January 1, 1919—to Sol and Miriam Salinger. His father, a Jewish man of Lithuanian descent, was in the business of importing kosher ham and cheese. His mother, Miriam, was born as Marie. She was of Irish and Scottish descent, but changed her name to please her husband's Jewish family. Salinger had a sister who was three years older than him named Doris.

Salinger's schooling

Though having an inclination for writing from his teenage years, Salinger was not a particularly good student. He often had trouble fitting in and attended many different schools and universities. His experience at prep schools and military schools is reflected in Holden's experience in Catcher in the Rye.

From 1932 to 1934, Salinger attended McBurney School. He wrote for the school's newspaper, was captain of the fencing team, and was active in school plays and drama. He had a talent for acting, but his father did not approve of it as a profession. For the second half of his high school career, Salinger attended Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he began secretly writing stories, was editor of the yearbook, and participated in many clubs. During his senior year of high school, Salinger declared that he would be a writer for the New Yorker—a dream that would require many submissions and rejections, but would eventually come true.

Salinger's university life was sporadic. He was a freshman at New York University but dropped out towards the end of the school year. His father then suggested he go to learn about the family meat and cheese importing business in Austria and Poland. Salinger went only to be horrified by the meat industry, and he was lucky to leave Austria just before the country was taken over by Nazi Germany in March 1938. Salinger came back and attended one semester at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, but dropped out. His most significant higher education experience was at Columbia University, where he took a writing class with Story magazine editor, Whit Burnett, who helped him publish his first story, "The Young Folks" in 1940, and became his mentor for several years.

Salinger's time in the military

Salinger was drafted to serve in the army during World War II. He served from 1942 until the end of the war in September 1945, and then served for an additional 6 months after the war as part of a "Denazification" duty. He began combat on D-Day, landing on Utah Beach and participating in the Normandy invasions.

During the war, Salinger began corresponding with Ernest Hemingway, the famous American author who was a war correspondent based in Paris at the time. Salinger continued writing throughout the wartime, and Hemingway testified to his talent.

Salinger's experience in World War II greatly influenced his writings. It took a severe toll on his mental health as he suffered from a nervous breakdown, likely due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health is a common theme of his writings, as he explores loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Salinger's personality

Salinger was widely known for being reclusive from the publicrejecting offers for interviews and maintaining close relations with very few. He greatly desired privacy, and a few years after he rocketed to fame with the 1951 publication of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger moved to the countryside of Cornish, New Hampshire, where he remained for the majority of the rest of his life.

Salinger was a film buff and loved to discuss movies. However, a poorly executed and reviewed adaptation of his short story, 'Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,' prevented him from giving film rights for any of his other stories.

Salinger was married three times and had a number of controversial relationships with young women. He had two children, Margaret (born in 1955) and Matthew Salinger (born in 1960), with his second wife, Claire Douglas. The couple was married from 1955 to 1967, and had a tumultuous relationship.

Salinger explored many religions and practices, such as Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Christian Science, Kriya yoga, homeopathy, and acupuncture. His adherence to ever-changing beliefs strained his family and personal life. The exploration of religious themes can be seen especially in the short story, 'Zooey' (1961) about a precocious teenage girl who tries to evade her everyday reality by unceasingly saying a prayer. Many parallels between the character, Zooey Glass, and Salinger's wife, Claire, have been drawn, as they both had short, dark hair, fair skin, and felt confused about religion.

J.D. Salinger cause of death

Salinger died of natural causes in his New Hampshire home on January 27, 2010, at the age of 91. He had been entirely healthy, except for a broken hip the previous year, as reported by his widow, Colleen O'Neill.

J.D. Salinger's books

Although the last story he published was 'Hapworth 16, 1924' in 1965, Salinger wrote consistently throughout his lifetime. His widow, Colleen O'Neill, and son, Matthew, were left in charge of his estate and future publications of his unseen writings.

Salinger's Published Books

  1. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) — Salinger's classic coming of age novel which has sold over 65 million copies.
  2. Nine Stories (1953) — A collection of nine of Salinger's short stories originally published in The New Yorker between 1948 and 1952, including 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' (1948), 'Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut' (1948), and 'For Esmé—with Love and Squalor' (1950)
  3. Franny and Zooey (1961) — A book of two stories about a brother and sister, Franny and Zooey Glass, who are the youngest two members of the unconventional, intellectual, Glass family.
  4. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963) — Two stories about the eldest brothers of the Glass family, Buddy and Seymour.
  5. Three Early Stories (2014) — A collection of three of Salinger's early stories written between 1940 and 1944, published after his death.

J.D. Salinger's quotes

This opening of The Catcher in the Rye, immediately sets Holden's sarcastic tone for the novel, and indicates how he freely says what he thinks, but in a way that is highly self-aware. This acute self-awareness met with causality and the pretence of not caring is a trademark of Salinger's narration.

Salinger often has a satirical, colloquial style of writing, as shown by these quotes from The Catcher in the Rye:

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden does not want to miss people or to be sentimental, but it is something he cannot avoid. Salinger uses this to show Holden's sensitivity in a way that fits into his teenage boy character.

Salinger's characters are often dissatisfied and searching for something more amidst regular life, as reflected in these quotes from Franny and Zooey:

It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so — I don't know — not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and — sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way.”

The "phoniness" Holden disapproves of in The Catcher in the Rye is also reflected in the characters Franny and Zooey, as they despise conformity but do not know where to turn without going mad.

I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.”

Salinger makes use of unlikely maxims to help reader's understand characters through their principles and thought processes. In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden is searching for stability, but is forced to acknowledge he lives in a world of change so he tries not to get attached or be overly sentimental about people.

J.D. Salinger's writing style, themes, and influences

Let's look now at some aspects of Salinger's writing.

Salinger's writing style

Salinger is known as a master of realistic dialogue. His writing style is quite informal, reflecting the everyday speech and internal dialogue of his protagonists (usually teenagers and young adults). The Catcher in the Rye was quite controversial due to its use of frequent "inappropriate" language.

Rather than being driven by big plot events, Salinger's writing relates to readers through expansion of more subtle, everyday moments, observations, and realizations.

Common themes in Salinger's writing

Salinger's writing often focuses on adolescent characters and children. He depicts children as insightful, and as having greater depth than most adults. The theme of nostalgia for childhood and an attachment to the past is common in Salinger's novels. Characters in Salinger's writings often deal with themes of growing up, isolation, anxiety, depression, not fitting in, and disapproval of conformity. Salinger's stories often draw attention to characters' deteriorating mental health and how they cope with it. As drawn from his personal life, topics of war and religion are frequently found in his stories.

Salinger's Literary Influences

Some of the writers Salinger admired are Dostoevsky, John Keats, William Blake, Robert Burns, Jane Austen, Henry James, Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Writers such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Haruki Murakami, John Green, and Stephen Chbosky have cited Salinger as an influence. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye has also been mentioned in songs by Billy Joel and Green Day.

J.D. Salinger - Key takeaways

    • J.D. Salinger was an American novelist and short story writer best known for his coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

    • Salinger was not a very good student. His high school experiences heavily influenced The Catcher in the Rye.

    • Salinger was served in World War II and suffered a nervous breakdown from PTSD, which greatly influenced his writing.

    • Salinger was known as a recluse and was strict about his privacy.

    • Salinger was interested in numerous religions, spiritual practices and health practices.

    • Common themes found in his writings are: isolation, loneliness, conformity, depression, dissatisfaction with society, growing up, nostalgia for childhood, and religion.

JD Salinger

J.D. Salinger was a famous American novelist and short story writer who lived from 1919 to 2010.

Salinger's most famous novel is The Catcher in the Rye (1951). He also wrote popular short story collections such as Franny and Zooey (1961) and Nine Stories (1953).

Salinger wrote the Catcher in the Rye as a semi-autobiographical story reflecting the struggles of growing up and feelings of isolation. Like the novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, Salinger attended preparatory schools, as well as a military school, and later on suffered a nervous breakdown.

J.D. Salinger served in the military for about three years, from 1942 until the end of the War in September 1945.

J.D. Salinger had regret over the publishing of The Catcher in the Rye because it drew a lot of attention to him, and he greatly valued his privacy. Shortly after the novels publication, Salinger moved from NYC to Cornish, New Hampshire for more privacy.

Final JD Salinger Quiz

Question

What novel is J.D. Salinger most famous for writing?

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The Catcher in the Rye

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Where did J.D. Salinger grow up?

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New York City

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Which war did Salinger serve in?


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World War II

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Which of the following age groups did Salinger not typically write about?


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Elderly

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Which of the following is not a common theme found in Salinger's writing?

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Answer

Racism

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What are some similarities between J.D. Salinger's life and Holden Caulfield's life?

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Answer

Both went to prep school, military school, and suffered nervous breakdowns. 


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How could you describe Salinger's writing style?

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Salinger's writing style is quite casual, making use of realistic dialogue and reflective thoughts.


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What was Salinger's ethnic background?


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Jewish

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Which famous American author did Salinger correspond with during the War?


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Ernest Hemmingway

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Why did Salinger move to the countryside in New Hampshire?


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Salinger was reclusive and wanted privacy after the fame that came after The Catcher in the Rye's publication 


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Who is the author of The Catcher in the Rye?

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J.D. Salinger

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What year was The Catcher in the Rye published as a novel?

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1951

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What was going on in history when Salinger was writing The Catcher in the Rye?


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World War II

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Who is the main character of The Catcher in the Rye?


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Holden Caulfield

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Where is the narrator writing the story from?


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A mental institution

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Who is Phoebe?

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Holden's younger sister

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Who is D.B. and what is his profession?

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Holden's older brother who is a screenwriter in Hollywood

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Who is Allie?


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Allie is Holden's younger brother who died from leukemia.

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What is the name of the school Holden has been expelled from?

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Pencey Prep

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In which city does the majority of the story take place?


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New York City

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Name at least three themes found in the novel.


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Alienation, depression, superficiality, loneliness, loss of innocence, growing up, change, belonging, and mental illness

 

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What genre is The Catcher in the Rye?


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Coming of age story/ bildungsroman

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Where does the book's title come from?


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The title originates from a Robbie Burns poem that Holden mishears. Holden wants to be The Catcher in the Rye, catching children as they come through a field of rye and fall from a cliff, which represents a loss of innocence or departure from childhood.

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What does the carousel symbolize?

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At the end of the novel, Holden finds peace and joy watching Phoebe right the carousel at the Central Park Zoo. Phoebe riding the carousel at the end of the novel can symbolizes both comfort and safety in childhood, as she goes round and round in circles that stay the same, but also acceptance of growth and risk, as Holden acknowledges that kids always want to reach for the golden rings at the top of the carousel, and even if they fall off, you have to let them try.

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What are two motifs in the novel?


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Catching and falling

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