“In 1959, eight years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, Arthur Mizener began a Harper’s magazine essay about J. D. Salinger by noting that he was ‘probably the most avidly read author of any serious pretensions of his generation.’ There were good reasons why this should be the case, Mizener commented. Whatever limitations the work might have had – either of technique or of subject matter – within these limitations it was ‘the most interesting fiction that has come along for some time.’ Although, as we will see, there was little critical agreement about what the limitations of The Catcher in the Rye may have been, there was little disagreement with Mizener’s contention that Salinger was the most avidly read ‘serious’ writer of his generation. Soon after Nine Stories appeared in April 1953, it made the New York Times best-seller list. By 1961 sales of Catcher were reported to have reached one and half million copies in the United States alone.” (from The Introduction)
Table of Contents:
Series Editor’s Preface
This book is part of The American Novel Series
Introduction by Jack Salzman
John Seelye: Holden in the Museum
Michael Cowan: Holden’s Museum Pieces: Narrator and Nominal Audience in The Catcher in the Rye
Christopher Brookeman: Pencey Preppy: Cultural Codes in The Catcher in the Rye
Joyce Rowe: Holden Caulfield and American Protest
Peter Shaw: Love and Death in The Catcher in the Rye
French, Warren G. “The Phony World and the Nice World.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 4.1 (1963): 21-30. Print.
“Just as one inspecting real estate must seek some central promontory from which to get the lay of the land, so the critic trying to get an author’s work into perspective seeks some central document that provides a focal point from which the others must be viewed. Since the work on any considerable writer is, furthermore, likely to embody a complexity of subtly insinuated themes rather than to reiterate a single, baldly stated idea, more than one of his works may serve as a center for organizing a study of his achievement. So far comprehensive evaluations of J.D. Salinger’s work have been built around two short stories; I propose to utilize a third.”
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→
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).
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.
“For Esme – With Love and Squalor” was published in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950. It was later collected in Nine Stories (1953)
Staff Sergeant X (also The Narrator)
Narrator of the story, who has suffered shell shock and is telling us the story of a special child he met right before his unit participated in the D Day landings, as well as the dark period he suffered after battle. The story is split parts, and in one part the narration is first person, in the other it is third person. The third person narration is the point in the story where the narrator is referred to as “Staff Sergeant X.”
The young girl who has a conversation with Sergeant X the day before he goes into battle, and subsequently sends him a letter that reaches him once the battle is over. In the beginning of the story, we are told that Esme is getting married, and that she invited Sergeant X to the ceremony, even though she only met him once.
Esme’s little brother, a source of comic relief in the story and the focus on many critical studies along with the two main characters.
Corporal Z (Clay)
Sergeant X’s roommate after the battle. Some critics say he is the foil to Sergeant X’s character, and others say he represents the “squalor” from the title. He is crass and crude, and very much a caricature of a young, toughened Army grunt.
Esme and Charles’ governess. She has a small role in the story, mainly as a not-very-good governess who allows the children to sit with and talk to Sergeant X.
Staff Sergeant X’s Wife
Sergeant X’s mother-in-law. Mentioned at the beginning of the story.
Salinger: A Biography by Paul Alexander tells us:
“As soon as The New Yorker published ‘For Esme – With Love and Squalor,’ Salinger began to hear from readers. On April 20, he wrote to Lobrano from Westport to tell him that he had already gotten more letters about ‘For Esme’ than he head for any story he had published.”
Hamish Hamilton (a British publisher) wanted to publish a collection of Salinger’s stories. Salinger was reluctant. He ended up publishing Nine Stories (not with Hamilton), but “two months after Little, Brown published Nine Stories, Hamish Hamilton released the book in England. There was, however, one major difference between the American and British versions. Hamilton felt strongly that the generic name Nine Stories would have been the worst possible title to put on the book and he somehow convinced Saligner to let him use as the title for the collection “For Esme – With Love and Squalor,” the story that was perhaps Salinger’s most famous in England if not the United States as well. To the public, Hamilton also finessed the fact that the book was a collection of stories by emphasizing in the advertising copy the idea that For Esme was the next book from the author of The Catcher in the Rye. Hamilton wanted to downplay the truth, since story collections never sell as well as novels.”
Hamilton put the book out in 1953. It did not do well financially, but was well-received critically. Later the same year, Hamilton sold the book to Ace Books – a mass market publisher. They did not usually deal with “real literature.” Hamilton thought it was a good financial decision. Ace published the book with an inappropriate picture of an older, sexy blond girl on the cover. Hamilton didn’t consult Salinger before the sale, and Salinger was truly angry. Salinger never spoke to him again.
The story opens with a first person narrator informing the reader that he received an invitation for an English wedding that will take place April 18th. He expresses a desire to go to the wedding, but tells the reader that his mother-in-law (Mother Grencher) is coming to visit, so he can’t. He says that he has “jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago.”
The narrator then tells us that in April of 1944 he was stationed in Devon, England. We learn that he is American, that he was an enlisted man, and that he was part of a “rather specialized pre-Invasion training course.” His unit trained for three weeks, and then they were scheduled to be a part the “D Day Landings.” On this last night before the deployment, the narrator had already packed his bags, so he gets on his outdoor things and walks into town.
Once in town, he stops at a church where schoolchildren are having choir practice. He notices one child in particular, who has a clearer and nicer voice than the other children. She is around thirteen years old, and is a very pretty child. After the song ends, the narrator goes to a tearoom. Soon after, the pretty young girl from choir practice comes into the tearoom with a governess and a little boy.
The girl eventually approaches the narrator, and he asks her to join him. The conversation that takes place is witty and delightful, and the narrator is obviously very impressed by his companion’s intelligence. The girl, named Esme, tells the narrator about her aspirations, her past, her family, and we learn that her father has died in the war.
Esme’s brother Charles comes over and tells the narrator a joke, “What did one wall say to the other wall? Meet you at the corner!” Charles is very amused by his joke and laughs uproariously.
The narrator notices the large wristwatch that Esme is wearing. It belonged to her father. She, having learned that the narrator was a “professional short-story writer” before the war, tells the narrator that she wishes he would write a story for her – and that she prefers “stories about squalor.”
Charles tells his joke again, and the narrator finishes the punch line. Charles gets angry and stomps away, and soon it is time for the children to leave the tea house. Before she goes, Esme asks the narrator if he wants for her to write to him, because she writes “extremely articulate letters.” The narrator gives her his rank and name so she can write to him. She tells him she’ll write to him first so that he doesn’t feel “compromised” in any way. Charles and Esme come back into the tea room because Charles wants to kiss the narrator goodbye. The narrator asks Charles “What did one wall say to the other wall?” and Charles happily replies, “Meet you at the corner!”
The narration shifts and we have the first person narrator telling us that “this is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes.” The narration shifts to a third person narrator and the setting of the story shifts to Gaufurt, Bavaria “several weeks after V-E Day.”
Staff Sergeant X, possibly recovering from a nervous breakdown and suffering shell shock. He is not able to sleep, he is chain-smoking, his gums are bleeding, and he is generally in ill health. His friend Clay, whom he refers to as “Corporal Z” talks to him about his girlfriend Loretta, and tries to get X to come to some parties in town. X declines, and stays in his room alone. He finds a pile of mail that he had not yet opened, and opens a letter that is from Esme.
In the letter Esme apologizes for her delay in writing, and asks him to “reply as soon as possible.” She sends her father’s wristwatch in the package, and at the end of the letter Charles has added “HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHARLES.”