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Holden & I, Part III: Holden & Salinger

Greetings, lit geeks - and welcome to...wait for it....


I don't know who's more excited: you or me! And as much as I want to get straight into today's topic - a miniature biography of Salinger and a mild psychoanalysis of his affinity for women half his age (yep, you read that right!), all in the context of Catcher -  I promised over Twitter yesterday that a full explanation would be provided. So, without further ado...

THAT is what I did yesterday! For a girl who's deathly afraid of heights, that's pretty impressive, isn't it? It's a high-adventure course inside the Jordan's Furniture in Reading, and it was completely and utterly awesome, for lack of a more Salingerian word. At first, I've gotta admit: I was being a total pole-hugger and I was scared to walk on anything that didn't have hand ropes. Once I got used to being 12 feet up in the air, though, and kinda got my "air legs," it was actually really fun! 

So, that's why I didn't write yesterday. Jealous? Disappointed? Hoping my answer would be something more like "Orca Attack" or "Field Trip to Hogwarts"? Yeah, me too. Well, the truth is always somewhat boring, isn't it? For real life, I've gotta say: yesterday was probably about as good as it gets! 

Now, for the real reason you're here (unless you just saw my tweet and really, really wanted to know what happened. In which case, that's cool, too - welcome!): J.D. Salinger, Joyce Maynard, and Holden Caulfield, with guest appearances from Ernest Hemingway and Nabokov's Lolita

As always, a few brief disclaimers: firstly, I don't own Catcher in the Rye. Obviously, though that would be pretty cool. Secondly, I aim to please, not to plagiarize, so please do e-mail me at if anything about my work seems a little fishy, so I can update my citations! Last but not least, I wouldn't plagiarize you, so please don't plagiarize me! A citation in MLA format is available at the bottom of the article for your USE IT!!! I mean, come on guys; I've literally handed it to you.

Whew, that was a lot. Let me stop and breathe first....

Okay, I'm good. Ready, set, CATCHER! Cue the bittersweet, histrionic intro music. 

WARNING: This post contains spoilers!

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York on January 1, 1919 to a fairly normal childhood. The only major disturbance in his early years was – gasp! – finding out that his mother was actually a closeted Catholic (he grew up believing he was 100% Jewish, like his father). (the Daily Mail)

It was not childhood that corrupted Salinger’s innocence – “popped his cherry,” so to speak – as adolescence and adulthood. First, it was his doomed love affair with Oona O’Neil in 1941: the 16-year-old girl he once wished to marry eventually ran away to wed Charlie Chaplin (the Daily Mail). And then, of course, there was the Second World War: the reason Salinger’s relationship ended in the first place, and the reason for all of the emotional and psychological turmoil that haunted him – and Holden – ever since (New York Magazine).  

We learned in class that J.D. Salinger saw more combat than perhaps any other classic American writer. While Ernest Hemingway and Tim O’Brien were as cozy as one could be stationed in WWII and Vietnam respectively, Salinger fought on the front lines, stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, and liberated Nazi prisoners first-hand. Salinger touted the first pages of Catcher in the Rye through much of the combat (Vanity Fair).

With the harsh realities of war branded onto his brain, it’s unsurprising that both Salinger and Holden aimed to become “Catchers in the Rye”: preservationists of innocence; protectors and shields from the stark evils of the adult world. Salinger knew even more so than Holden what predators lay in wait for kids who grew up too fast – the draft, for one. War. Death.

It’s no wonder, then, that Salinger developed severe depression. On May 8, 1945, as the rest of the Western world was celebrating the end of the Second World War, Salinger sat on his bed, staring at a pistol, contemplating suicide. Fortunately, the literary genius was smart enough, diligent enough, and humble enough to seek help. Like Holden, Salinger checked himself into a mental hospital, where he passed time sassing the staff, writing letters to his good friend Hemingway (whom he met in Paris during the war), and generally trying to save face, for he feared the implications of his psychological turmoil on the reception of Catcher in the Rye. (During the 1940s, the stigma surrounding mental illness was considerable.) (Vanity Fair)

Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was published on July 16, 1951 by Little, Brown – a Boston company, might I point out! Catcher was also banned almost immediately, for its “shocking” use of the f-bomb and candid sexual dialogue, among other matters we high schoolers today would probably consider trivial. (Vanity Fair)

No doubt in relation to his history of mental illness, fame didn’t sit well with Salinger, and so he essentially became a recluse, holing himself up in his house like a hermit in a way that – or so I am convinced – all writers must do at least once (Dead Caulfields). While he did publish later works such as Franny and Zooey, such works were simply republications of. After his death, three short stories of his have been leaked on the internet – none of which I have read; all of which I am sure live up to his high standards of quality narration and intricately-crafted characters. 

Ironically, Salinger himself ended up becoming one of the adult dangers that parents and “Catchers” might try to keep children from. As I touched upon briefly in my first post, Holden & Sexuality, J.D. Salinger was a bit of a creep. He had a fascination with innocence that translated appropriately into his writing and inappropriately into his sex life. He preyed on young girls long into his late life by luring them to his home through letters.

One of his conquests – benignly (and inaccurately) referred to as “muses” by most online sources - claimed that he broke up with her just after taking her virginity: all-too earnest testimony of Salinger’s obsession with the pure, the untouched. The director of the movie “Salinger”, Shane Salerno, perfectly explains how Salinger’s PTSD-driven pursuit of innocence manifested itself in his sex life: the girls he sought “[replicated] a pre-war innocence for him…[he] used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds.” (the Wrap). A second theory attributes Salinger’s sexual insecurities to his lack of a second testicle, but I think I’d rather believe the first one, so I can take at least a little pity on the poor man (Salon).

Most famously, Salinger pursued the eighteen-year-old writer Joyce Maynard after reading her article in the New York Times, “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life” (the Daily Mail). He was so moved by her piece (and by her pixie-like appearance in those photographs, no doubt) that he wrote her a fan letter cautioning her against the dangers of fame (New York Magazine). They exchanged about 25 letters before, in a spectacle straight from a whirlwind Hollywood drama, Maynard forsook her second year at Yale to move in with Salinger, who would trample her heart years later by crushing her dreams of having a family and essentially kicking her out (New York Magazine).

Maynard is frequently referred to as Salinger’s “Lolita,” which lends a curious and inappropriate (I think) shade of literary artistry to their relationship. Their sexual relationship was at first stagnant, later almost nonexistent; its foundation was oral sex, both because Maynard had a condition that made penetrative sex painful and because Salinger feared having more children (he wed his wife Claire, who was sixteen years his junior, in 1955 – he forced her into isolation when she became pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, and a son, Matthew) (the Daily Mail).

The women in Salinger’s life described him as “sexually manipulative,” “pathologically self-centered,” and “abusive” – yet many former “muses” also describe their relationships with Salinger as weirdly nonsexual, up to a point (New York Times). He was, apparently, also an early New Age philosopher, obsessed with homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, dieting, Zen Buddhism, and Scientology (ibid). If he hadn’t died more than five years ago, Salinger probably would have fit right in with the all-natural health fads sweeping the nation today – I imagine that he and a young Beyonce might have e-mailed over green juices and spin classes. Or would Queen Bey have been too much of a feminist for him? Hmm…

With all the effed-up things he was doing (and that had been done to him), Salinger was understandably desperate to protect his privacy. To be completely fair, the world had been cruel to him – and so he knew it would only continue to become crueler. The one time he let his guard down was in 1953, when he agreed to let a group of local teenagers interview him for what he thought was a small school newspaper. When the article was published as a large feature editorial, Salinger felt so betrayed that he built a six-foot fence around his property and never spoke to the press again. Not only was Salinger privy to his privacy, but apparently he also had tremendous capabilities for holding a grudge. (
In his not-so-fine late years, Salinger was known to wield shotguns at strangers on his porch and sue authors for writing his biography (New York Magazine). He died at 91 - bitter, alone, and in no physical pain - in January of 2010 (New York Times).

Today, people are still arguing incessantly, uselessly about whether or not Joyce Maynard was the exploiter or the exploited, when I think we all know the answer to that one (New York Magazine). If you’ve read John Green’s the Fault in Our Stars, you probably won’t be surprised to find that J.D. Salinger makes me feel a little bit like Hazel Grace felt about Peter van Houten. Like van Houten, Salinger was “a good writer but a shitty person.” Although I will never be able to simply “forgive” Salinger for his pedophilic victimization of teenage girls, it breaks my heart to wonder why he did it. Was it a result of his wartime trauma? His long history of mental illness? Or was his lifetime of seclusion simply becoming too much? Was J.D. Salinger lonely?

No matter what way you swing it, the fact of what Salinger did remains the same: he nearly committed suicide. He checked himself into a mental institution. He threatened the press. And he harassed girls a quarter of his age. As much as we all want to romanticize our literary idols, the fact of the matter is that had Salinger not been so tormented, so distraught by the shattered pictures of innocence he saw in the world around him, the Catcher in the Rye probably would have been a thin, flimsy piece of mass-marketed literature hardly worthy of sitting on the shelf next to Fitzgerald.

They say it takes one to know one: Salinger was Holden Caulfield. He couldn’t accept that he would never become a “catcher in the rye” and so he tried to vicariously recapture his youth through his pint-sized lovers. Through writing the character of Holden, Salinger inadvertently became Holden: a man desperate to hold onto his innocence even after he knew it was gone – a man who could not let go of his juvenile fixations. Two boys defeated by death, conquered by loss, and shattered by mental illness. Two boys who felt strongly that “you should never tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” If that doesn’t explain Salinger’s self-imposed exile, I don’t know what would.

Well, that's it for me and Holden, Holden and me - or Holden & I, I should say. It was fun while it lasted, 99.9% of the time (the other 1% I spent procrastinating on giant ropes courses and swearing at Salinger under my breath). Welp.

Stay tuned here on the Chick Lit Kitchen for my next big event, coming real brand-new 30 -Day Challenge! Eek! Whatever could it be about? My lips are sealed. I've locked them and thrown away the you'll just have to keep checking back to find out >:) mwahahaha! How else do you think I'd keep you coming back for more? Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Oh, I'm only teasing - it's been a long day! You know you love me, deep down inside.

XOXO, Haley

To cite this post (in MLA format): 

The Chick Lit Kitchen. Holden & I, Part III: Holden & Salinger. Blogspot, 2 Mar. 2015. Web. Date you accessed this post.


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