Angelica Bega-Hart is a graduate student completing her M.A. in English at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she also works full-time. She and her husband live and work in Richmond, where they share a house with three rescued dogs. Angelica's academic interests include American Literature and Drama and Literary Geography.
“Anyone who comments on the works of J. D. Salinger, nowadays, does so at his peril. There are many – editors, critics, friends, relatives, and plain readers among them – who are eager. to chastize the commentator for his indiscretion. This is just as well: one may thus feel free at last to say what one wishes. Where cannons and controversies reign, there is some freedom in playfulness.” (5)
“Literary passions were not easily formed among America’s youth in the 1950’s. But during those years many students in high schools and colleges discovered, through J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, that “literature” did not mean the, to them, dull poetry and fiction of their text books. After the novel’s appearance in 1951, its fame began to spread by word-of-mouth, until something of an underground “Catcher cult” existed throughout the country. The speech mannerisms of Holden Caulfield, the book’s protagonist and narrator, were carefully imitated, and a generation of young Americans perceived through Holden the extent to which the world was divided between the “phonies” and the “nice” people, the former comprising the vast majority of the population. Then, in the late 1950’s, young college and high school teachers, themselves having been deeply affected by the book six or eight years earlier, introduced it formally into the classroom, and thus within a decade of its publication it reached the stature of an American “classic”.”
“When J.D. Salinger’s “Hapworth 16, 1924”—a very long and very strange story in the form of a letter from camp written by Seymour Glass when he was seven—appeared in The New Yorker in June 1965, it was greeted with unhappy, even embarrassed silence. It seemed to confirm the growing critical consensus that Salinger was going to hell in a handbasket. By the late Fifties, when the stories “Franny” and “Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters” were coming out in the magazine, Salinger was no longer the universally beloved author of The Catcher in the Rye; he was now the seriously annoying creator of the Glass family.”
“As I began to write this essay I had come to it fresh from reading three items that seemed to me suggestive in different ways. The first was a report that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies had overtaken and passed J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as the most-read novel among young college readers. Also, I had just gone through a book entitled Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, which contained nearly three hundred pages about the author contributed by twenty-five writers. Finally, I had seen a report that Salinger had given permission for the publication in book form of two more previously-published Glass stories, to be called Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.2 These items suggested to me comments which I wanted to make about matters of change and stasis – to use a currently fashionable word – in the public and the criticism, and the work, respectively, of J. D. Salinger. In brief, it appears that he is now past the peak of the popularity he enjoyed in the late 1950’s. Further, Salinger criticism has now resolved itself into a dialogue in which the Anti’s, scarcely heard at first, now have substantial and vocal representation, a colloquy which has its own set of cliches and war-horse citations of evidence. The recent published and republished work itself is part of an extended phase of preoccupation with spiritual crises which has concerned the author for nearly ten years now, a phase in which the only change discernable has been an even more intense interest in the spiritual coupled with increasing experiment characterized most strikingly by prolixity of style. To indicate a further direction, all of this makes a Salinger adherent wish for certain things, almost for a moratorium now on Salinger criticism as well as for evidence that this gifted writer has assimilated the influences which have both informed and swamped his later work, evidence that he is ready to break through from a minor phase to a major one, as he once did earlier in his career.” (100)
Written in 1963, Blotner’s article suggests the high point of Salinger’s popularity has passed, but leaves open the possibility (the hope?) that Salinger may still renew or even surpass his previous success. He writes:
…all of this makes a Salinger adherent wish for certain things, almost for a moratorium now on Salinger criticism as well as for evidence that this gifted writer has assimilated the influences which have both informed and swamped his later work, evidence that he is ready to break through from a minor phase to a major one, as he once did earlier in his career. (101)
He further notes that the “antis” (those who are more critical of Salinger’s work) have gained standing and that early critics who praised Salinger, while still in the majority have been increasingly silent. Therefore, Blotner is less optimistic about the state of Salinger criticism, stating:
one wonders how long, even with Catcher and the non-religious stories in the Salinger corpus considered too, such a relatively slim body of work can support such extensive analysis. (102)
Blotner begins the essay noting that William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies has overtaken The Catcher in the Rye as the most read novel among young college readers. He revisits this issue later in the essay as he discusses Salinger’s move away from dealing with the squalid world to dealing more exclusively with love.
“J. D. Salinger and Kingsley Amis are brothers, with a common inheritance, tendency, and temperament.”
Green points to similarities in the works of Salinger and Kingsley Amis, but says, “… the point is not that they are so similar, as that they are so different from everybody else.” (21) Green notes ways in which their styles differ from the Modernists, notably Hemingway , Faulkner, James, and Kafka. By comparison he says, Salinger and Amis are more playful with language and themselves, noting their sentences are “strikingly personal, self-conscious, clumsy, [and] “clever.” (21)
He notes that they write about similar people and stresses that this is why the sentences quoted from both authors’ characters are “equally the utterance of the author.” (22) Green states that the “crucial category … is the phony.” (22) The effort to be not phony and also not too kind or rude to those who are phonies leaves both authors’ heroes “unable to live a normal life” as they “fight a perpetual guerilla war with the ordinary world.” (22)
Green suggests that in spite of “temperamental and national differences” their situations have a similarity as well. He presents Amis as more interested in the squalid world and less forgiving of his characters, noting that Salinger’s central characters are “beautiful and much loved” and “never lose their natural dignity.” (22) Green also emphasizes that both writers are connected by their attention to characters’ language, specifically their slang and that their level of personalization is what separates them from other “comic” writers.
Moreover, Green says, the characters gain even more similarity during the serious points of their works. He labels both Salinger’s and Amis’s heroes as “puritanical” and “pedagogical,” noting how difficult it is to make characters sympathetic at the same time. (*Editor’s Note: While there is some didacticism in the example he gives of Franny speaking to Zooey, and even, it could be argued, some fanaticism, it is difficult I think to make the case that all of Salinger’s characters are this way.)
The main problem both writers tackle, Green argues, is “how to take one’s place in intelligent, privileged, ruling-class society–which presents itself to both of them as horribly inadequate and dangerous.” (24) Green asserts that Salinger and Amis provide “at last a positive , life-giving alternative” to the Modernism of Hemingway, Faulkner, Greene, Waugh, McCullers and others. (25)
Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner’s slender volume of commentary addresses the bulk of Salinger’s oeuvre. The body of the book is divided into three convenient sections and seven sections in total comprise the work.
“For the future historian, the most significant fact about American literary culture of the Post-War period may be that whereas young readers of the Inter-War period knew intimately the work of a goodly number of coeval writers (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Wolfe, Sinclair Lewis, for example), the only Post-War fiction unanimously approved by contemporary literate American youth consists of about five hundred pages by Jerome David Salinger.”
The introductory section details the prevailing critical responses to Salinger’s work. They briefly describe the critical stance of critics Heiserman and Miler, David Stevenson, Ihab Hassan, Leslie Fiedler, Donald Barr, William Wiegand, and Maxwell Geismar, though they do not engage with their theoretical stances in the introduction.
Gwynn and Blotner also identify “For Esme-With Love and Squalor” the “high point of Salinger’s art” (for more information, see the “For Esme…” readers guide).
The Long Debut: The Apprentice Period (1940-1948)
This section discusses the twenty or so stories that appeared largely in magazines such as Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, but also in a handful of others such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping). Gwynn and Blotner describe these as being of five types, “The Short Short Stories,” “The Lonely Girl Characterizations,” “The Destroyed Artist Melodramas,” “The Marriage in Wartime Group,” and “The Caulfield Stories.”
While dedicated primarily to feminist autobiography, Jolly’s article does not deal at length with Salinger’s letters, but does mention them in elucidating her larger points about the negotiation involved in the author/subject relationship. In the section entitled, “Stealing Letters: The Ethics of Epistolary Research” Jolly writes,
“The key negotiation takes place over how and whether the private should be publicized, in which the balance of power becomes a central question. But there are special ethical challenges involved for letters, for here there is also the relationship between the correspondents (or their inheritors) themselves to be negotiated.”
And that, “biographers like Ian Hamilton and Diane Middlebrook, who tracked down unpublished letters of J.D. Salinger and Ted Hughes in university libraries, find themselves up against the financial and psychological demands of immensely influential literary estates.”
She goes on to suggest,
“[r]ecent theory on the ethics of life writing pushes us to rethink privacy as the effect of relationships. The question is not so much the protection of an absolute form of privacy but of understanding and respecting the kind of contract or sociability each form of address presupposes. But how do we apply this to the publication of letters, which themselves owe their existence to relationship?”
Thus, Jolly’s article contains on the barest mention of the Ian Hamilton/J. D. Salinger contreversy but does a good job in what it seeks to do, which is to discuss the status of literary letter writing and its appropriation, specifically within a feminist framework.
In 1974, in his last public comments, Salinger told The New York Times that there was, “marvelous peace in not publishing.” He added: “I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure . . . I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my view.”
Lawsuit to Block Ian Hamilton’s Biography
In 1986 when Ian Hamilton was attempting to publish In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life, Salinger sued to prohibit the use of his letters in the biography. A New York Times article written by Arnold Lubasch on January 30, 1987 included the following information about the suit in which Salinger prevailed:
The biography of J. D. Salinger was blocked yesterday by a Federal appeals court in Manhattan that said the book unfairly used Mr. Salinger’s unpublished letters. Reversing a lower court decision, the appeals court ruled in favor of Mr. Salinger, who filed suit to prohibit the biography from using all material from the letters, which he wrote many years ago.
In its 24-page decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the case focused on ”whether the biographer of a renowned author has made ‘fair use’ of his subject’s unpublished letters. Mr. Salinger wrote the letters to his friend and editor, Whit Burnett, and to several other people, including Ernest Hemingway. “The biography,” the appeals court said, ”copies virtually all of the most interesting passages of the letters, including several highly expressive insights about writing and literary criticism.”
In a footnote, the appeal court’s decision cited a letter in which Mr. Salinger complained about an editor who praised one of his stories while rejecting it. ”Like saying,” he wrote, ”she’s a beautiful girl, except for her face.” Another letter criticized Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Presidential candidate, saying, ”He looks to me like a guy who makes his wife keep a scrapbook for him.” The decision included another footnote referring to a 1943 letter in which ”Salinger, distressed that Oona O’Neill, whom he had dated, had married Charlie Chaplin, expressed his disapproval of the marriage in this satirical invention of his imagination: ”I can see them at home evenings. Chaplin squatting grey and nude, atop his chiffonier, swinging his thyroid around his head by his bamboo cane, like a dead rat. Oona in an aquamarine gown, applauding madly from the bathroom.” ”I’m facetious,” the letter added, ”but I’m sorry. Sorry for anyone with a profile as young and lovely as Oona’s.’
Mr. Hamilton, who wrote the biography despite Mr. Salinger’s refusal to cooperate with him, made use of the unpublished Salinger letters, which were written between 1939 and 1961. The recipients or their representatives donated the letters to university libraries, where they were discovered by Mr. Hamilton.
When Mr. Salinger learned that the letters were being used in the biography, he registered them for copyright protection and objected to the biography’s publication unless all of the material from the letters was deleted. In response to Mr. Salinger’s objection, the appeals court observed, Mr. Hamilton and Random House revised the original galleys of the biography by paraphrasing much of the material that had previously been quoted from the letters. The appeals court continued, however, that Mr. Salinger identified 59 instances where the revised biography contained ”passages that either quote from or closely paraphrase portions of the unpublished letters.”
Mr. Salinger then sued the biographer and publisher, charging that the use of his letters involved copyright infringement and unfair competition. Judge Leval of the lower court rejected Mr. Salinger’s request for an injunction in the suit, ruling that the biography had made only minimal use of material that was entitled to copyright protection. But he temporarily held up publication to permit an appeal. In the subsequent decision by the appeals court, Judge Newman noted that ”the author of letters is entitled to a copyright in the letters, as with any other work of literary authorship.” The book was finally published in 1988 by Random House with the letters’ contents paraphrased. Continue reading J.D. Salinger’s Lawsuits and Censorship→
The New Yorker, May 4, 1957 pages 32-42, 44, 47-48, 50, 52,54,57-59, 62, 64, 67-68, 70, 73-74, 76-78, 80-82, 87-90, 92-96, 99-102, 105-106, 108-112, 115-122, 125-139 (original appearance). Later published by Little Brown as Franny and Zooey in 1961, and dedicated to William Shawn.
Frances Glass (“Franny”)
A 20 year old college student
Zachary Martin Glass (“Zooey”)
Zooey is 25 years old. He is considered one of the most attractive and successful of the Glass children. It is noted that he is a successful television actor.
Irish-born family matriarch. Bessie worries about her children who have all seemed to grow up almost by themselves after years of success on “It’s a Wise Child.”
The absent father, Les is more or less only mentioned in “Zooey.” He is of Jewish descent and he and Bessie were successful Vaudevillians
Buddy is the second-oldest of the Glass children, he teaches at a women’s college.
Seymour has been dead 13 years during the course of events that composes “Zooey.” Franny says she wants to talk to Seymour and that doing so is the only thing that will make her feel better.
“Zooey” continues the story of Franny’s “spiritual awakening” on Monday, two days after Franny’s trip to Princeton. The novella also gives the reader additional information about the unusual upbringing of the Glass children, whose radio appearances as child geniuses, has created a unique bond among them. Salinger indicates even more in “Zooey” than in other Glass family stories that the Glass siblings have a unique understanding of one another based on this shared experience.
The narrative opens with Zooey, smoking and soaking in a hot bathtub, reading a four-year old letter from his brother, Buddy. The letter encourages Zooey to continue pursuing his acting career. Zooey’s mother, Bessie, enters the bathroom, and the two have a long discussion, wherein Bessie expresses her worries about Franny, whose existential anxiety seen in “Franny” has progressed to a state of emotional collapse. During the conversation, Zooey vacillates between a sort of tit-for-tat banter with his mother and a downright rude dismissal of her and repeatedly asks that she leave. Bessie accepts Zooey’s behavior, and quips that he’s becoming more and more like his brother Buddy.
After Bessie leaves, Zooey gets dressed and moves into the living room, where he finds Franny on the sofa with her cat Bloomberg, and begins speaking with her. After upsetting Franny by questioning her motives for reciting the “Jesus Prayer,” Zooey goes into Seymour and Buddy’s former bedroom and reads the back of their door, which is covered in philosophical and literary quotations. After contemplation, Zooey telephones Franny, pretending to be their brother Buddy. Franny eventually acknowledges the ruse, but she and Zooey continue to talk. Knowing that Franny reveres their oldest brother, Seymour – the spiritual leader of the family, who committed suicide years earlier – Zooey shares with her some words of wisdom that Seymour once gave him. At the end of the call, as the fundamental “secret” of Seymour’s advice is revealed, Franny seems, in a moment reminiscent of a mystical satori, to find profound existential illumination in what Zooey has told her.
Critics have often examined the underlying significance of religion in J.D. Salinger’s short fiction. This is entirely appropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because what little we know about Salinger’s biography suggests that he avidly followed a number of religious traditions. As a young man growing up in a mixed religious household, as a Jewish soldier in World War II, and as more than a dilettante in the area of alternative spiritualities including Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and even at one point, Dianetics, Salinger’s attention to religion seems tantamount to understanding his work. Moreover, there are both overt and covert references to Eastern and Western spiritualities in his fiction. The relevance of religious criticism has often predominated critical attention to Salinger’s 1957 novella Zooey.
Critical attention which has not centered on religion has often focused instead on elements of character or on the ephiphanic moment during the narrative’s climax. Seymour’s “Fat Lady” is one such primary target for debate. Furthermore, many psychoanalytic critics have investigated the relationship between Zooey and his mother Bessie. However, all of these critics may have missed an important corollary to Zooey, in Tennessee Williams’ popular 1944 drama, The Glass Menagerie. Apart from a mention in Gwynn and Blotner,  contending that Salinger fills a void left by post-war writers including Williams, and a brief, punning nudge to the play in Charles Poore’s New York Times Review of Franny and Zooey,  there is little mention of any connection between these two works of post WWII American fiction. While there are important differences as well, these works share more than a passing resemblance to one another. These similarities are most evident in the three main characters of each narrative. Other details of the stories mimic one another as well, as both employ elements of Romanticism and struggle with the idea of virtue. Both also deal with time and performativity in interesting ways in order to connect those elements thematically to the narratives. And ironically, both create some of the same mythic and symbolic connections.