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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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Allie and Phoebe: Death and Love in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye by David Burrows

MLA Citation:

Burrows, David J. “Allie and Phoebe: Death and Love in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.”Private Dealings: Modern American Writers in Search of Integrity. Rockville, MD: New Perspectives, 1974. 106-14. Print.

First Paragraph:

“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”.”

Continue reading Allie and Phoebe: Death and Love in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye by David Burrows

J.D. Salinger, Revisited by Warren French

MLA Citation:

French, Warren. J.D. Salinger, Revisted. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Print.

First Paragraph:

“The irony of the title of this book is that nobody visits J.D. Salinger at all without a rarely extended invitation, and certainly the least likely recipient of one would be a professional literary critic. Like many authors, Salinger feels that what he has to say can be found in his books and that readers need no outside guidance, although the tragic behavior of Mark David Chapman (John Lennon’s assassin) might suggest otherwise. (Chapman inaccurately cited Catcher in the Rye at his sentencing to justify his actions {see Chapter Three, n. 13}.) Anyway, I bring no news about Salinger himself, as I will be revisiting only the writings he has with increasing reluctance committed to print.”

from the Preface, page ix

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J.D. Salinger by Warren French

MLA Citation:

French, Warren. JDSalinger. New York: Twayne, 1963.

First Paragraph:

When the original edition of this book about J. D. Salinger appeared in 1963, I think no one could have foretold that that year marked the climax of the productivity of what George Steiner has called the “Salinger Industry.”  I raced to complete my study before scholarly competitors published theirs, for i had read announcements that at least a dozen other studies were being prepared. None of these has appeared within the twelve years that has passed, and this book remains the only study of much more than fifty pages that examines from a single viewpoint Salinger’s major work. However, five sizable collections of essays and an issue of Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature devoted to Salinger, did appear during 1962 and 1963.

from the Preface (non-paginated)

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Salinger Now: An Appraisal

MLA Citation:

Blotner, Joseph L. “Salinger Now: An Appraisal.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 4.1 (Winter 1963): 100-08. Print.

First Paragraph:

“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)

Summary:

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.

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Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye
Photo from ABE Books website

Written by Elizabeth Downing Johnson – December 2009

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye has attracted a lot of attention in its 58 years of literary life.  Published in 1951, the novel received mixed critical reviews, garnering praise from The New Yorker, The Book-of-the-Month Club, Atlantic, Time, and Saturday Review (to name a few), but receiving criticism from publications like The New Republic, The Nation, New York Herald Tribune, Catholic World, and The Christian Science Monitor.  A decade later, schools and libraries would ban The Catcher in the Rye, stating that the language was inappropriate and that the themes were blasphemous and immoral.  Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, testified that he was sure that “the large part of me is Holden Caulfield,” (Jones, 1), and John Hinckley Jr,’s attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, as well as Robert John Bardo’s murder of a young television star, are also associated with the novel.

Obviously, not all press is good press, and despite Salinger’s notorious reclusive behavior, readers of The Catcher in the Rye can be sure that Salinger’s intention was not to encourage psychotic behavior.  Along with this assumption, one could also assume that Salinger’s intention was not to spawn a published “Unauthorized Fictional Examination of the Relationship Between J.D. Salinger and his Most Famous Character,” which is the claim printed on the back cover of a book titled 60 Years Later:  Coming Through the Rye.  This book, written by one Fredrik Colting (pen name J.D. California) was the topic of many news stories in the summer of 2009.  In fact, Salinger’s legal representation put a stop to the book’s American publication, stating that the book was a “rip off, pure and simple”  (Staff, Concord Monitor).  Since the book is still (as of December, 2009) unpublishable in the United States, so far no examination has been made to discern whether the book actually “works” as a sequel or as a “fictional examination” of Salinger and his relationship with Holden Caulfield.  In order to do this, one would have to read 60 Years Later and compare it to the themes and style of The Catcher in the Rye.  Luckily, (or unluckily), I have done so, and will attempt herein to give an objective analysis of the book and its relationship to Salinger’s masterpiece.  Despite any attempt at objectivity, the textual and thematic analysis will prove that Colting’s attempt falls short of its goal.

In any comparative analysis, the best place to start is the text itself.  Themes are debatable, but the text itself does not lie.  This will be the first step in our journey, only after an introduction to 60 Years Later:  Coming Through The Rye for those who have not had the chance (or the inclination) to buy it from another country.  The plot of the novel follows an elderly Mr. C., who wakes up in a nursing home thinking that he is still the young Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.  He is confused and thinks that his brother D.B. has been there the week before (while we find out later in the novel that D.B. died some time ago from a drug overdose), and he is shocked when he looks in the mirror and sees an old man looking back at him.  The narrative is interrupted intermittently by italicized text that is supposed to be Salinger himself pondering over the fact that Holden seems to have had a whole life in the years since Salinger wrote his original story.  The second chapter consists of only two sentences, “I’m bringing him back.  After all these years I’ve finally decided to bring him back” (Colting, 9).  The first four chapters are a slightly hallucinogenic account of Mr. C.’s description of his surroundings and his realization that he is now an old man.  The end of the forth chapter ends with another section of what is supposed to be Salinger’s internal narrative, wherein he decides that

The most important rule, the one you cannot break or go around, is that everyone here needs to have a past.  It’s really true everywhere but especially so here.  If you don’t have a past you don’t exist.  So I have to give him something to hold on to;  I need to give him a life.  Right now he’s confused, the poor boy.  Who wouldn’t be?  But it will pass.  This very moment he is nothing but empty space.  He is like a piece of paper upon which you have once started a story,and then locked in a box and buried deep in the ground.  Now, 60 years later, you dig that same box up and continue the story from where the last sentence ended  (Colting, 36).

Continue reading Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye