Salinger and Holden: Silent Heroes of Modern Times

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Abstract: Among the great writers of the tumultuous decade of 1950s America, J. D. Salinger acquires a peculiar stance. His popularity rests precisely on two bases: that he was the writer of one literary bible of the young generations to come, The Catcher in the Rye, and that he was, ironically enough, resentful toward the publicity brought by this novel and few, but brilliant, short stories. This essay will focus on the mystery of Salinger's silence and self-imposed exile by exploring his life and ideas and the various social and critical responses to his celebrated novel.

Key words: silent heroes, modern times, silence and self-imposed exile, critical responses

Today, over 50 years since its publication, The Catcher in the Rye is undoubtedly one of the most read and most acclaimed works of American literature. Millions of readers from distant places and times have identified with Holden Caulfield and have roamed with him in the city of New York. The novel has gone through seventy printings, has sold over sixty million copies, and has been translated into thirty languages. "A 1998 poll by the Board of the Modern Library places Catcher at Number 64 in its list of the 100 best novels in English, while its companion readers' poll places the novel at Number 19. In 2003 the BBC's 'Big Read' campaign ranked Catcher at Number 15 in a nationwide poll of favorite novels" (Graham, 2007, p. xi). Catcher soon became a must-read novel for all, especially for the young, and turned into a cultural icon in the U.S. As Steinle (2000) argues in her In Cold Fear: The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character, Catcher is "more than a novel: it is a 'cultural statement', a text that can be claimed by any generation, that echoes through many other texts; a novel that can even change its reader" (as quoted in Graham, 2007, p. 66).

Upon noticing the influence of this tragicomic story on its readers, French (1970) makes use of the term "Age of Salinger" for the period between 1948 and 1959 -publication dates of Salinger's A Perfect Day for Bananafish and Seymour: An Introduction, respectively- for, he believes, "these dates are important in discussing the rage for Salinger, because not since the enthusiasm during the early Romantic period for Goethe's young Werther had fictional characters so completely dominated the imaginative fancies of a decade as Seymour Glass and Holden Caulfield dominated the dim, defensive 50s" (p. 514).

But the immense popularity of the novel and the applause of the critics did not affect its author, J. D. Salinger. Or better to say, he did not want it. Soon after Catcher was published, Salinger withdrew from the public, took leave of New York -the city he was born and raised in- and went to a self-imposed exile in the rather rural setting of Cornish, New Hampshire since 1953. He published a few short stories afterwards, and the rest, since 1965, was silence. Pattanaik (1998) speaks of Salinger's silence as though it is another one of his works. The interpretation and decoding of this last "work" is, no doubt, crucial in understanding Salinger and his other works. This essay will undertake this difficult task by referring first to Salinger's biography and then to his novel in discussion, The Catcher in the Rye.

J. D. SALINGER: THE SILENT WRITER

Jerome David Salinger was born on the first day of the year 1919 to a fairly well-to-do family in New York City. His father, Solomon (Sol) was Jewish. He had a successful career working for a company that imported meat and cheese from Europe. His mother, Miriam, was an Irish Catholic, but changed her name to Marie to appease Sol's family. His older sister was named Doris.

Sonny -for that was his nickname in the family- had a cold and distant relationship with his father, "and he did not even bother to attend his funeral" (Morrill, 2006, p. 161). For one thing, he hated his father's business. When he was young, his father sent him to Poland to see first hand the other side of the business, and he was so repulsed by the sight of slaughterhouses that he decided to embark on a totally different career right away (p. …