BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History
Jerome David Salinger
Salinger's Life in New York
J.D. Salinger was born in New York City on January 1, 1919 and lived near Central Park in the more affluent part of the city. His father had a job in the meat and cheese import business giving Salinger a privileged life. At a young age, Salinger was introduced to the literary and artistic world. He was a frequent visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. He was a regular visitor to Broadway's plays and movies. With an interest in films and plays, he loved to act. He was so fond of acting, in fact, that he signed his fellow classmates' high school yearbooks with the names of the roles he'd performed in school plays. Growing up as a Jewish American in the 1920s and 1930s Salinger experienced the widespread discrimination against Jews that was prevalent in American society at that time. Even major magazines in America such as the Saturday Evening Post contributed to the systemic prejudice against Jews. It is believed that the discrimination Salinger experienced growing up set the tone for his future literary works.
Early in his life, Salinger knew he wanted to be a writer. Though he felt privileged to receive a higher education during the Depression years of the 1930s, he only looked upon college as a way to pass the time. He was repeatedly turned down by The New Yorker when he attempted to publish some of his early works, until he wrote "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which was the first story to feature the character Holden Caulfield. Salinger's first published story was "The Young Folks," in 1940 earning him twenty-five dollars. The story satirizes the self-concerns of a pair of young adults at a college party and the festering shallowness of their lives. The Young Folks, focuses on how personal interactions and dialog even in ordinary day-to-day circumstances can bring on much deeper questions.
In 1941, Salinger achieved a degree of financial success when he sold three stories in well-known national magazines Collier's, Esquire, and The New Yorker. At the age of twenty-two, he was dating Oona O'Neill, the very beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter of writer Eugene O'Neill. In 1942, O'Neill moved to Hollywood and soon after she turned eighteen married Charlie Chaplin. Their failed romance would affect Salinger long after their relationship ended. He was a frequent visitor to all the popular nightspots throughout New York City. Many of Salinger's friends felt he was destined for success as a writer though at that point he was relatively unknown.
Salinger's Privileged Life
Salinger's first day as a soldier was April 27, 1942. For the next two years, he remained in the United States training for the war. In Maryland at Camp Ritchie, he received specialist training as an agent of the Army Counterintelligence Corps. His job was shrouded in secrecy long after the war ended, acting as a counterintelligence agent, he was involved interrogating prisoners of war; working in the shadow war, the no-man's land between American and German lines; gathering information from civilians, the wounded, traitors, and black marketers. John Keenan served with Salinger in the Counter Intelligence Corps. Salinger, whose group included Keenan, Jack Altaras, and Paul Fitzgerald were together throughout the war, calling themselves the "Four Musketeers." After the war, they would remain Salinger's close friends for the rest of their lives. Their experiences during the war would create an inseparable bond.
Salinger's 12th Infantry Regiment would land on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, with not quite 3,100 soldiers; by the end of June, it will be down to just 600 soldiers the hardships of war would take their toll on his outfit. Salinger would wade ashore on Utah Beach with the first seven chapters of "The Catcher in the Rye" in his backpack. For the next year, Salinger was on or near the front lines battling the best troops Germany could throw at the Allied forces as they advanced out of their beachheads. In the battle for the hedgerows Salinger's division was drawn into a deadly battle of attrition, it would become known to the troops as "85 Days of Hell." Before the battle ended his regiment would lose 76% of its officers and 63% of its enlisted men either killed or wounded. Salinger would remark his experience in the hedgerows was "too horrendous to put into words."
Normandy France June 6, 1944, Utah Beach
Salinger Experiences the Horrors of War
Despite the mostly successful surprise of the D-Day invasion, Allied forces were soon stalled in a series of battles that American and British generals would term the battle for the Hedgerows. German resistance was so determined Allied armies were blocked, and bloodied unable to advance very far from their beachheads. There was a possibility due to the German superiority in numbers, that at any time Allied forces could be driven back to the seacoast, and forced to withdraw back to England. Allied Supreme Commander Dwight David Eisenhower decided to bring in the American 3rd Army from England. It was lead by General George S. Patton perhaps the Allies best general to lead the breakout. With a fresh army and complete control of the air the Allies would use brute force to break the stalemate. With overwhelming force the Allies would shatter Hitler's armies in France forcing them to retreat into Holland in the fall of 1944.
After D-Day Salinger and his unit would spend the next two months fighting their way to Paris. On August 25,1944, his unit would take part in the liberation of Paris, one of the few bright moments of the war for Salinger. During the few days he spent in Paris, Salinger was able to meet Ernest Hemingway whom at Salinger's request would read one of his short stories and was impressed with his work. Salinger and his unit would spend the Fall of 1944 driving the Germans back through France and Belgium. At the town of Schmidt in the Hurtgen Forest, Salinger and his unit again was caught up in another desperate battle of attrition that Stephen Ambrose defined as "grossly, even criminally stupid."
Salinger's regiment was next sent to Luxembourg to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. By the time the war would end he had won five battle stars for his service. Salinger remained affected by the horrors of war throughout his life. In 1945 he was hospitalized outside of Nuremberg for what was termed "battle fatigue." It was a time little was know about post traumatic stress. His years as a soldier profoundly influenced his creative life. The war also affected his personal life. Throughout the rest of Salinger's life he would battle severe cases of depression and isolate himself at his cottage in New Hampshire. His daughter revealed although she didn't know her father was a writer when she was young she always knew he was a soldier. His daughter Margaret never doubted that her father was a soldier. From the stories Salinger told, the clothes he wore, the bend in his nose from where he's broken it diving out of a jeep to avoid enemy sniper fire, his deaf ear from a mortar shell exploding too near, the jeep he drove, his oldest friends such as John Keenan, who had been his jeep partner throughout the five campaigns of the war, the guns they used when he taught her how to shoot, his GI watch, nearly everything she could see and touch and hear about her father said soldier.
J.D. Salinger Summer of 1944
Salinger After the War
When Salinger returned back to the United States after the war he feared he might lose his sanity. He continued to battle the horrors he witnessed after he landed on Utah Beach June 6, 1944. Salinger's chief claim to fame is his novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was published in 1951. The first nine stories featuring the Caulfield family supplied the avenue along which Salinger would move until it culminated in, The Catcher in the Rye. The creation of Holden Caulfield is his crowning achievement. Those close to Salinger saw many similarities between Salinger's most famous character and himself. The novel was first published on July 16,1951, it was selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, which assured the novel's financial success. In the following decades his novel sold over 68,000,000 copies and would give Salinger worldwide fame and financial independence. He would become one of the most famous literary recluses in history, withdrawing from the public eye to live in the hills of Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1953. Since then he rarely granted interviews or made public appearances, finding fame, publicity, and literary criticism repugnant.
When Salinger died on January 27,2010, at age 91, he was described as a recluse in almost every report. He had become the Howard Hughes of his day. In fact Salinger was protected by a code of silence by his friends that they refused to break. Colleen O'Neil Salinger's last wife, told a local newspaper that the author had been grateful for the "protective envelope" that the locals had given him. The Second World War made him as a writer and broke him as a man. He would never fully recover from his experiences during the war. The war was the ghost in the machine for all J.D. Salinger's stories. Salinger's last published work appeared in "The New Yorker" in 1965. But in fact he was writing for nearly a fifty year period up until his death, which included more stories about Holden Caulfield. Even in death Salinger left his fans hanging in suspense. As his son Matt struggles to overcome the legal hurdles to publish his late fathers unpublished works, only time will tell what lasting impact J.D. Salinger will have on literary history.
Salinger Experiences Fame
Bloom Harold. J.D. Salinger Infobase Publishing . 132 West 31st Street, New York, NY 10001. 2008
Keegan John. The Second World War. Penguin Random House Books., 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014. 1990
Salinger A. Margaret. Dream Catcher: A Memoir. Washington Square Press., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. 2000
Scovell Jane. Oona: Living In The Shadows. Hachette Books Inc. 237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017. 1998
Slawenski, Kenneth. J.D. Salinger A Life Raised High. Pomona Books, West Yorshire, England. 2010
© 2020 Mark Caruthers
MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 09, 2020:
JD Salinger is a well-known figure and I have read many of his articles. This was a fascinating article of the man who was a witness to the D-Day Landing.