Category Archives: Salinger In Context

Taking a Walk Through J. D. Salinger’s New York by James Barron

Seton Entrance - Edward Keating/The New York Times
Seton Entrance - Edward Keating/The New York Times

MLA Citation:

Barron, James. “Taking a Walk Through J. D. Salinger’s New York.” The New York Times. The New York Times Co., 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/taking-a-walk-through-jd-salingers-new-york/>.

First Paragraph:

Hey, listen. You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?

There it is: the Holden Caulfield question. Sara Cedar Miller gets it all the time.

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Brow Beat: From Gotham with Love and Squalor: J. D. Salinger’s New York by Judy Rosen

MLA Citation:

First Paragraph:

“I almost always write about very young people,” J.D. Salinger said in 1946, and today this giant of midcentury fiction is being remembered as a chronicler of his time and, especially, of a time of life. But he was also a poet of place. Nearly all of Salinger’s troubled, brilliant young people—Holden and Phoebe, Seymour and Buddy, Franny and Zooey—are Manhattanites, and their stories are distinctly New York stories, set against a backdrop of bustling avenues and classic sixes on either side of Central Park, and narrated in an ironic, neurotic, contrarian voice whose provenance is unmistakable.

Continue reading Brow Beat: From Gotham with Love and Squalor: J. D. Salinger’s New York by Judy Rosen

J.D. Salinger: The Fat Lady and the Chicken Sandwich by James E. Bryan

MLA Citation:

Bryan, James E. “J. D. Salinger: The Fat Lady and the Chicken Sandwich.” College English 23.3 (1961): 226-29. Print.

First Paragraph:

Critics have rightly complained that J.D. Salinger’s “Glass family chronicles” [citation omitted] lack the superb poetry and economy of his Nine Stories period. However the garrulity of Salinger’s recent narrators provides a not unwelcome annotation of symbolism and underlining of theme which can often serve as a reference to the interpretations of earlier stories.

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Salinger’s Allusions to “My Foolish Heart” by George Cheatham

MLA Citation:

Cheatham, George, and Edwin Arnaudin. “Salinger’s Allusions to “My Foolish Heart” – The Salinger Movie.” ANQ 20.2 (2007): 39-43. Print.

First Paragraph:

“As Peter Beidler, among others, has noted, ‘Most of Holden Caulfield’s references to book and movies in The Catcher in the Rye turn out to be real, though perhaps obscure ones.’ (44).  One such obscure but real reference-perhaps two, although the reference, or references, might be Salinger’s rather than Holden’s-is to My Foolish Heart, a 1949 feature film based on Salinger’s sotry ‘Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut’ (1948, reprinted in Nine Stories, 1953) and remembered now mostly for its title song, which became a pop standard, and for having ‘killed Salinger movies’ as John Truby phrases it.  The creative team at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios-which included Samuel Goldwyn and Casablanca screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein-managed to turn Salinger’s brief but bitter indictment of upper-middle-class phoniness into what one reviewer called a ‘four-handkerchief tearjerker of repentance and redemption’ (qtd in Alexander 141).  Salinger, reportedly both humiliated and appaled by what ‘Hollywood had done to ‘Uncle Wiggily,’ subsequently refused, notoriously, to sell the movie rights to Catcher in the Rye.  ‘No, no, no,’ he insisted, ‘I had a bad experience in Hollywood once’ (Alexander 141-142).”

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Salinger and Consumer Culture

Contributed by Tim Towslee. Many thanks Tim!

Ed. note: This is great background for examining the cultural shifts that Salinger was reacting against. More information is forthcoming about Salinger’s relationship to post-war consumer culture.

Consumer Culture: 1945-1960

A Very Short History of Consumerism in Prewar America:

  • Consumerism has its roots on American soil in the seventeenth century. The puritans believed that there were two types of consumption: that which was directed at satisfying needs, and that which purposed to satisfy wants. They considered the former legitimate and condemned the latter (Campbell 19).
  • As America developed as a nation, consumerism played a great role. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Americans were producers. In the mid- to late- nineteenth century, with the emergence of the middle class, a shift occurred and more people took part in consumption of goods rather than production. At the end of the nineteenth century, middle-class Americans left their blue-collar production jobs for white-collar careers in sales, advertising, banking, etc. These jobs afforded them more money and more leisure time in which to spend it. Thorsetein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) addresses this phenomenon. His book is still uncannily prescient today.
  • American culture transformed from a more text and language based society to a more audiovisual culture in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Warren Susman identifies this period as the origin of “the comics, the poster, the photograph, the phonograph, the telephone, the radio, moving pictures, advertising, pulp magazines and with them certain genres of fiction and nonfiction, and, perhaps most centrally, the automobile” (xxvi). Susman argues that these media define our culture and its ideology.
  • In his book Keywords (1985), consumer culture historian Raymond Williams lists “personality” as one of the words that entered the middle class vocabulary in the early twentieth century as advertisers catered to the individual and the development of self through consumerism.
  • Veblen’s model assumes that consumption is a form of communication in which the ‘signals’ concerning wealth (and thus, it is argued, the social status) of the consumer are telegraphed to others. In addition, it is assumed that individuals seek to use such ‘conspicuous consumption’ as a way of improving their social standing, aiming ultimately to ‘emulate’ that ‘leisure class’ which, it is claimed, stands at the pinnacle of the class system. This view of the class system links it directly with an ethically dubious activity, social climbing. In assuming that consumers’ main interest in goods is as symbols of status, Veblen asserts that consumers are motivated by a mixture of anxiety (over how others may view them) and envy (of those in a superior position). (Campbell 21)
  • The seeds of mass consumption were planted in America in the 1920s and 1930s, but the Great Depression and World War II kept it from flourishing until 1945. There were, however, visible sprouts present in wealthy metropolitan areas that were unfazed by both depression and war.
  • In his 1941 State of the Union Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt “laid out ‘Four Freedoms,’ one of which was ‘freedom from want,’ calling for ‘the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living’” (Glickman 5).

Postwar Economy in a Nutshell:

  • After World War II, America experienced an economic boom attributed to, among other things, lower gas prices, more women in the workforce, the baby boom, and a vast suburban migration. More than anything else Americans cast aside their penny pinching thrift, a habit necessitated by twenty years of depression and war, and replaced it with a new level of consumption. Answering F.D.R.’s call, middle-class Americans were now “denoted by their skills in ‘the art of living’ – defining their social status and sense of cultural identity through distinctive, consumption-driven lifestyles, their values and codes of behavior laying an accent on stylistic self-expression, self-conscious display, and [using Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘new petite bourgeoisie’ terminology] an ‘ethic of fun.’ …[They] embraced “hedonistic consumption as an acceptable – indeed, highly desirable – focal point to their values, aspirations, and social practices” (Osgerby 12).
  • America proved the biggest single consumer of [its own outpouring of wartime production]. Denied many goods during the austere war years, their pockets lined with unspent money, citizens rushed to buy everything that appeared on the new peacetime market. The orgy of self-indulgence created a level of prosperity unseen since the heady days just before the stock market crash of 1929 (Young 3).
  • Between 1950 and 1960, the gross national product grew from $285 billion to $500 billion.
  • The U.S. population grew from 132 million in 1940 to 150 million in 1950, and to 179 million in 1960.
  • The median family income rose from $3,083 per year in 1950 to $5,976 per year in 1960. This surge in disposable income manifested itself in increased sales of “new cars (as opposed to used ones), televisions, high-fidelity units, improved telephones, alcoholic beverages, and endless entertainment” (Young 6).

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The Influence of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald on J.D. Salinger

Written by Kathy Gabriel December, 2009

As two of the most influential and well-known authors of the 20th century it is not surprising that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway would inspire a great many young writers. The surprise is that one of those young writers would go on to achieve a comparable level of importance to his predecessors in the literary world. Fitzgerald and Hemingway both influenced Jerome David Salinger but in very different ways.

Although J.D. Salinger never met F. Scott Fitzgerald he was still greatly inspired by Fitzgerald through his work.  In his biography of Salinger In Search of J.D. Salinger, Ian Hamilton states that “the authors he most admired were Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Scott Fitzgerald: These three had almost classic status in his mind. (53). As he developed as a writer Salinger came to see himself as following in Fitzgerald’s footsteps and perhaps even achieving what Fitzgerald could not. As Hamilton reports:

In 1941 Salinger would have liked to think he was doing what Scott Fitzgerald had to do. Fitzgerald had died a year earlier, and his legendary aspects were fresh in everybody’s mind. Salinger, in his letters, always spoke warmly of him and took heart from the knowledge that it was the Saturday Evening Post that had supported the writing of the Great Gatsby. In later years he would denounce Fitzgerald’s association with the magazine. For the moment though, he believed that he—Fitzgerald’s successor—could perform a balancing act, which the master himself could never master: between the Nathan and the Woodford worlds, between integrity and commerce (64)

Aside from Fitzgerald’s overall influence on Salinger’s vision for the direction his career would take; there is also evidence that Fitzgerald’s writing directly inspired Salinger’s own works. One prominent example of this is the end of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” which bares a striking resemblance to the end of Fitzgerald’s novelette “May Day,” published in 1920. In his hotel room Fitzgerald’s main character Gordon Sterrett took the revolver he bought at a sporting goods store and fired a shot into his own head “just behind the temple” (Fitzgerald 141). Salinger’s main character, Seymour Glass also committed suicide in a hotel room.

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When Papa met Salinger by Brad McDuffie

MLA Citation:

McDuffie, Bradley R. “When Papa Met Salinger.” Edmonton Journal. McClatchy Newspapers, 23 July 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. <http://www.edmontonjournal.com/index.html>.

Summary:

McDuffie reviews the available information about Salinger’s relationship with Hemingway, which includes references to a letter, recently made publicly available in the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Original Article:

*Reprinted here with permission of the author.
Also available at the following site.

Edmonton Journal

In Time magazine’s 1961 article Sonny, An Introduction, John Skow gave the following account of J.D. Salinger’s meeting with Ernest Hemingway during the Second World War: “In France, Staff Sergeant Salinger had an audience with War Correspondent Ernest Hemingway, who read Salinger’s work and, possibly in appreciation of it (‘Jesus, he has a hell of a talent’), took out his Luger and shot the head off a chicken.”

In the years that followed, almost every Salinger critic has reported some version of this story. But as the half-century anniversary of the infamous chicken myth draws near, it is time, at last, to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, the myth has led scholars to ignore the fact that meeting Hemingway during the war is the most overlooked event in Salinger’s formation as a writer. Considering the meeting involves two of the most influential writers of the 20th century, the oversight is difficult to comprehend. Salinger died in January at age 91; Hemingway, who died in 1961, was born 111 years ago last week (July 21).

By all accounts, Salinger first met Hemingway at the Hotel Ritz after the liberation of Paris in 1944. In a letter dated a couple of weeks later, on Sept. 4, 1944, Salinger tells his editor, Whit Burnett of Story Magazine, that he met Hemingway and found him soft in comparison to the hard, tough demeanour of his prose. Salinger also says Hemingway was generous, friendly and unimpressed by his own reputation.

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With Love and Squalor edited by Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller

MLA Citation

Kotzen, Kip, and Thomas Beller. With Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond to the Work of J.d. Salinger. New York: Broadway Books, 2001. Print.

First Paragraph:

“There are a lot of things that most of us would rather not know about J. D. Salinger. What he eats or drinks. What he wears.  What kind of father he is. Or any other of the various sordid details that have surfaced about his personal life in books by Ian Hamilton, Margaret Salinger and Joyce Maynard. Personally, my interest was never in J. D. Salinger the myth. It was always in J. D. Salinger the writer. ”

from the Introduction, page 1

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Salinger and the Literary Geography of a Real and Fictional New York City

Written by Angelica Bega-Hart, November 2009.

According to Phillip Lapote there are ten themes [1] that occur “obsessively” in fiction written about or situated in New York City. (Lapote, xviii) Though Salinger does not appear at all in Lapote’s bulky anthology, several of those themes are manifest n Salinger’s writing.  As Ruth Prigozy notes,

The local references in Nine Stories clearly indicate a recognizable fictive world: New York City predominates, from the opening line in “A Prefect Day,” set in Miami but alluding to “ninety seven New York advertising men” (3). In “The Laughing Man, ” the precise geography of the city forms a substructure for the double layered story as does the east side of Manhattan for the dramatized encounters of “Just Before the War.” Whether the characters are on vacation, on a ship, in a foreign country, or in a Connecticut suburb of the city, the sensibility of Salinger’s world is firmly established by its references to the sophistication, polish, manners, and locales associated with the New York City of Salinger’s educated upper middle class. (qtd in Bloom, 93)

Certainly, Salinger’s familiarity with the city was an important part of his ability to portray it in a “precise” and stylized manner. And Salinger was as familiar with the city as anyone. Raised in New York, Salinger was born in 1919 to Sol Salinger and Marie (Miriam) Jillich at the Nursery and Child’s Hospital on West 61st Street. “Sonny” as he was nicknamed, went home to 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. As his father’s success increased the family moved to a house on West 82nd Street on the Upper West Side and then later to the fashionable and ritzy Upper East Side, to the building located at 1133 Park Avenue. (Alexander, 31-35) William Maxwell would later argue that Saliner’s childhood gave him a unique perspective on the city that would later dominate the settings for much of his fiction, saying:

JEROME DAVID SALINGER was born in New York City on January 1, 1919. So far as the present population is concerned, there is a cleavage between those who have come to the city as adults and those who were born and raised there, for a New York childhood is a special experience. For one thing, the landmarks have a very different connotation. As a boy Jerry Salinger played on the steps of public buildings that a non-native would recognize immediately and that he never knew the names of. He rode his bicycle in Central Park. He fell into the Lagoon. Those almost apotheosized department stores, Macy’s and Gimbel’s, still mean to him the toy department at Christmas. Park Avenue means taking a cab to Grand Central at the beginning of vacation. (Dead Caulfields [2])

Salinger’s time in New York lasted until his early teens, when he went away to prep school in Pennsylvania, but after a few brief years, he was back in the city of his birth attending college at New York University’s Washington Square College and later taking classes with Whit Burnett at Columbia University.  Perhaps more importantly, Salinger came back to New York at the conclusion of the war and spent time in Greenwich Village where he made connections with other aspiring writers. (Alexander, 114)

Despite Salinger’s New York roots and the tendency of his stories to focus on New Yorkers with overt references to important New York City landmarks, Salinger is not often anthologized as a New York writer. Most often included in anthologies about the Big Apple are earlier writers such as Washington Irving and Walt Whitman and from Salinger’s generation, John Cheever, John Updike, and the Beat poets. One anthology of New York writing that does include Salinger is David Remnick’s Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. In it, Remnick includes stories that “reflect the city’s moods and crises over seventy-five years,” from writers who “are legion” and who have “helped create a powerful and complex portrait of New York.” Most importantly, Remnick says he aims for a “quality of endurance” (Remnick, xii) Remnick apparently sees such a quality in one of Salinger’s earliest short stories, “A Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” which illustrates a scene that would eventually be rewritten (from a different point of view) and incorporated into Salinger’s most famous work, The Catcher in Rye. It remains unclear if, as Paul Alexander suggests, Salinger may have prevented his work from being reproduced in anthologies [3] and whether this fabled decision of Salinger’s is the primary reason for his lack of inclusion in a number of New York anthologies. (Alexander, 24)

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The Hyphenated Ham Sandwich of Ernest Hemingway and J D Salinger: A Study in Literary Continuity by William Goldhurst

Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1970
Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1970

MLA Citation:

Goldhurst, William. “The Hyphenated Ham Sandwich of Ernest Hemingway and J. D. Salinger: A Study in Literary Continuity.” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1970, pp. 136-150.

First Paragraph:

“In his influential book on Ernest Hemingway, Phillip Young contends that “there is little in Hemingway-and next to nothing  of ultimate importance-that has not its precedents” in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Young bases this claim on parallels that emerge from a comparison of Twain’s boy-hero Huck and Hemingway’s fictional heroes, but especially the prototype-hero Nick Adams as he appears in the story collection In Our Time. After a detailed and convincing presentation of similarities, Young concludes that Huck and Nick are nearly identical persons who are “very nearly twins.” Furthermore, says Young, “the adventures of the generic Nick Adams are the adventures of Huckleberry Finn in our time,’the main difference being only that “at the very point where Twain found his boy too complex, and let him go, Hemingway has exploited his condition, and raised him to complicated manhood.'” (136)

Continue reading The Hyphenated Ham Sandwich of Ernest Hemingway and J D Salinger: A Study in Literary Continuity by William Goldhurst