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Free Study Guide-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger-Free BookNotes
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

J.D. SALINGER

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City on January 1, 1919. His father, Sol Salinger, was Jewish and his mother, Marie Jillich, was of Scotch Irish descent. Since his parents were of different religious backgrounds, one Christian and the other Jewish, theistic belief was never really emphasized. Salinger had only one sibling, a sister named Doris, six years his senior. The family was upwardly mobile and moved several times during Salingerís childhood to increasingly affluent neighborhoods.

Salingerís academic career could best be described as mediocre, for he was never really inclined toward academics. He was particularly weak in mathematics. He attended a public school on the upper West Side in Manhattan and spent his summers at Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine. At camp, he was involved in the theater, even though off stage he was a quiet and solitary young boy. At the age of thirteen, Salinger was enrolled in the McBurney School, but within a year flunked out and was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. While he was there, he became interested in writing. He produced his earliest short stories before he graduated in 1936.

After graduating from high school, Salinger was briefly enrolled in Ursinus College, where he wrote a humorous column for the campus newspaper. His father took him out of college to go to Vienna and learn the ham business as an apprentice. On returning to New York, Salinger turned toward more serious writing. He enrolled in Whit Burnettís well-reputed course in short-story writing at Columbia University.


Salinger was first published in Young Folks and The New Yorker, with his first story appearing in 1940. In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army and performed intelligence services in World War II. In 1946, Salinger was discharged from the army and returned to New York, where he resumed his writing of short stories. Several were published in Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, and Story. The Catcher in the Rye, Salingerís only novel, was published in 1951. In 1953, his first collection of short stories, entitled Nine Stories, was published and included the well-known "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Franny and Zooey, published in 1961, is really two separate stories about different members of the Glass family. Another collection of previously published short stories was released in 1963.

Upon his return to New York from the army, Salinger turned towards oriental philosophy and the emerging culture of the "beat" generation. Although he lived with his parents on Park Avenue, he spent the majority of his time in Greenwich Village, where he began to follow the principles of Zen. At the end of the 40s and into the 50s, Salinger spent time in Tarrytown and Westport. He finally settled in Cornish in the New Hampshire hills. In 1953, he met and married Claire Douglas. Although they remained married and had two children, Matthew and Peggy, Salinger lived in almost total seclusion and self-imposed alienation away from his many followers.

Salinger became a devoted student of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, which preaches the concept of the four Ďasramasí or stages of life. According to the philosophy, a person must divide his/her life into four portions, devoted to studies, household duties, retirement to the forest for the sake of meditation, and spirituality, in that order.

Salingerís work is essentially autobiographical and based on his real life experiences. It is ironic, however, that Salinger suggests the need to connect with and understand one another in The Catcher In the Rye; yet in his private life, he sets himself apart from the world.

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