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Jerome David Salinger

SALINGER, JEROME DAVID (1919–), U.S. author. Born in New York City, Salinger attended the Valley Forge Military Academy, a preparatory school which resembled the one attended by the hero of his first celebrated novel, Catcher in the Rye (1951). After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Salinger published Catcher in the Rye, which established his reputation as a writer. The novel's hero, Holden Caulfield, has been described as a kind of latter-day Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. A fashionable as well as a popular author, Salinger contributed stories to leading magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and The New Yorker. He wrote Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction (both 1963). All of these deal with the adventures of the Glass family of New York, a family of mixed Irish-Jewish origin.

Salinger gave a new and dramatic presentation of estrangement and crises of faith through such characters as Holden and Franny and Seymour Glass. Moreover, he was one of the first American-Jewish writers to draw upon the themes of Zen Buddhism. Salinger had a great impact on the mores of his youthful readers with The Catcher in the Rye (the word "prince" became part of a signature vocabulary just as Holden's cap also became part of a younger reader's costume–as far afield as East Germany), and a welcome reception among an older public. Nonetheless, his works had little discernible influence on the major traditions of American-Jewish literature as Jewish writing within America. Although the Glass family is notable, given its mixed heritage and brilliance, crises of faith are often anguishingly felt problems about a transcendent guarantee for meaning. In this sense, the Glass "fictions" make a common front with Isaac *Rosenfeld's Passage from Home (1946) and Edgar Lewis *Wallant's The Pawnbroker (1961) which weld Christianity, Yidishkeit, and American culture together. What is at stake in these works is the capacity to have faith within, and often against, a secularizing, pluralistic America. These works look forward to Hortense *Calisher's sweeping panorama of intermarriage and the commingling of faiths in Sunday Jews (2002).

Salinger's deeply reclusive life and decision not to publish further writings have led to various, if not contentious, biographical speculation.


P. Alexander, Salinger: A Biography (1999); H. Bloom (ed.), J.D. Salinger (2002); I. Hamilton, In Search of J.D. Salinger (1988); K. Kotzen and T. Beller (eds.), With Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger (2001); J. Maynard, At Home in the World: A Memoir (1998); M. Salinger, Dream-Catcher: A Memoir (2000).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.