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J.D. Salinger Essay, Research Paper
Many critics consider J.D. Salinger a very controversial writer,
for the subject matters that he writes.. J.D. Salinger?s works were
generally written during two time periods. The first time period was
during World War II, and the second time period was during the 1960?s.
Critics feel that the works during the 1960 time period were very
inappropriate, because of the problems for which he wrote. The main
characters were generally misfits of society. In most of his works,
he has the protagonist of the story go on a quest for happiness.
Salinger does not conform to the material happiness; the characters
undergo a spiritual happiness. The characters generally start out as
in bad conditions, through the end of his works they undergone changes
that change them for the better.
The works of J.D. Salinger show the quest for happiness through
religion, loneliness, and symbolism. Salinger?s works often use
religion in order to portray comfort. In Salinger?s Nine Stories
Franny Glass keeps reciting the “Jesus Prayer” to cope with the
suicide of her brother Seymour (Bloom in Bryfonski and Senick 69).
Salinger is able to use this prayer as a means of comfort for Franny.
The prayer stands for the last hope for Franny in this situation.
Franny would be lost if their was no prayer. (Bryfonski and Senick
71). Salinger shows us comfort in Catcher in the Rye. Holden
Caufield, the protagonist, is very much in despair for losing his
girlfriend, so Caufield reads a passage in the Bible. This helps
Holden change his outlook on life (Salzberg 75). Holden was all alone
at this point and had no one to turn back on, until he found the Bible
(Salzberg 76). In both stories the characters had found themselves in
bad situations. The characters in these works have obstacles which
they must overcome in order to achieve happiness (Salzman 34).
Happiness is the very substance which all of these characters are
striving for in Salinger?s works. Salinger uses religion in his works
to comfort them so that they can proceed on their quest to achieve
happiness. Salinger uses religion as a means for liberation. Salinger
uses much of the Zen philosophy, as in the case of Nine Stories, to
achieve this liberation (Madsen 93). In Nine Stories one of the
characters, Seymour Glass, is portrayed as Buddha in the sense that he
wants to be liberated as Buddha was in his life (Madsen 93). Seymour
Glass in Nine Stories has a certain philosophy about life, it is
similar to the Eightfold Path used by Buddha when achieving nirvana
(French in Matuz 212). Seymour Glass is on a quest to become free
from all of the suffering in his life as Buddha was from his life
(French in Matuz 213). Seymour follows the Eightfold path to become
liberated from suffering (Madsen 96). Seymour achieves “nirvana” by
living a good life and end anything that causes suffering. Seymour is
able to attain nirvana by committing suicide (Lundquist in Matuz 211).
Salinger shows us that when Seymour committed suicide he let go of
all of the suffering that he encountered, thus attaining the happiness
he longed for (French, Salinger Revisited 132). Salinger shows
liberation as an end to all suffering, thus creating happiness for the
character. (French, Salinger Revisited 133). The final function of
religion as a means to attain happiness was to gain peace In “The
Young Lion,” Salinger uses religion to gain peace through a
fictitious war. In the story many of the soldiers were dying and the
countries were in turmoil (Lundquist 312). The leaders in the story
see a vision on the battlefield that changes them, and stops the war
(Lundquist 315). Salinger shows how religion can be a force used to
create happiness in a story, by creating peace (Lundquist 313).
Salinger is able to use religion as a means of attaining happiness
through peace. The story seemed very dismal, until religion
intervened and stopped the conflict. Salinger creates happiness for
the characters by stopping the conflict. In “The Stranger” Salinger
creates peace through a war by using more of the Zen philosophy.
Salinger?s creates a “Pact of Peace” which stops the conflict between
the Germans and Polish during WWII (Hamilton in Bryfonski and Senick
143) . The “Pact of Peace” was a teaching used by Buddha in the Zen
philosophy (Hamilton in ryfonski and Senick 143). Salinger uses Zen,
in this case, to stop the conflict between the Polish and
Germans(Hamilton in Bryfonski and Senick 143). In many of Salinger?s
works the conflict, becomes a source for much of the unhappiness in
the story (Wenke 212). Salinger uses religion as a medium to create
tranquility, consequently the characters to achieve happiness (Wenke
In many of Salinger?s works loneliness is used to isolate
characters from evil. Salinger portrays all of society to be bad, and
for many character’s isolation from society is the only way to achieve
happiness (Grunwald 103). In Salinger?s Catcher in the Rye Holden
Caufield?s entire plot deals with him trying to isolate from society.
Holden realizes that society has become bad, and wants no part in
this terrible life (French, Salinger Revisited 192). Salinger uses
society as the source of discord in this case to be isolated from.
Holden is shown as a hermit at the end of Catcher in the Rye (Grunwald
68). Grunwald explains “Holden?s tranquillity, at the end, can be
ascribed to his isolation from society” (68). Holden only wants to be
separated from the society which considers him a misfit. In
Salinger?s works a source of unhappiness is usually the fact that
society feels the characters are misfits. The characters can
only become happy if they isolate themselves from this society.
Salinger uses loneliness also as a means to change in life. In “Raise
the Roof Beam High,” Salinger is able to use isolation to change the
life of Seymour Glass (Salzman 130). Seymour feels that society has
become corrupt and must change his lifestyle in order for him to
become happy (Salzman 134). Seymour sees that society has no more
compassion on people, and that he must do something to change it
(Salzman 136). In order for him to change society he must first
isolate from society (Salzman 140). Salinger uses loneliness again to
benefit mankind. Salinger in this case makes a person change his
lifestyle to isolate from society (Salzman 132). The benefits of this
action are good not only for the person who has changed, but also help
parts of society which are affected (Salzman 132). Loneliness in
Salinger?s works benefits the character?s greatly. Salinger is able
to isolate the characters in his works in order for them to attain
happiness (Grunwald 265). Salinger describes Seymour as “A recluse,
who will never be part of society” (Grunwald 260). He shows that
Seymour wants nothing of this world and wants to be as far away as
possible. The characters see that society has become bad, and in
order for them to become happy they must get away from society, and
live their own lives.
Salinger uses many lucky symbols in his works to show to fulfill
the quest for happiness. In “Soft-Broiled Sergeant” one of the
soldiers wears a pair of lucky underwear, which saves him in battle
and helps in finding the love of his life (French, J.D. Salinger 42).
The underwear gives the soldier the happiness he is looking for
(French, J.D. Salinger 45). Salinger many times uses funny lucky
symbols like this, but can be found to provide happiness for the
characters (Salzberg 121). Another example of lucky symbols is in
“For Esme” Salinger portrays the sun as a lucky symbol to Joseph
Carney (French, J.D. Salinger 63). The sun is lucky to Joseph in that
it helps Joseph turn his entire life around, from the rut it had been
into a life of great prosperity (French, J.D. Salinger 66). The sun
provides inspiration for Joseph to change his life (French, J.D.
The characters in J.D. Salinger?s works start out in bad
situations. Through the use of lucky symbols their life is changed to
what will make them happy. Salinger uses symbolism in his works also
to foreshadow a better life. In “Long Debut of Louis Taggett” the
symbol of a cigarette being put out foreshadows the end of a marriage
(Galloway in Curley and Kramer 58). The end of this marriage for
Louis Taggett, means good for his life (Galloway in Curley and Kramer
61). Louis at the end of the story is able to
concentrate more on his job, where he meets the woman that will really
love him, and find wealth and prosperity (Galloway in Curley and
Kramer 59). This symbolism to foreshadow is one of many examples of
how Salinger uses symbolism to predict a better life (Galloway in
Curley and Kramer 61). Salinger many times use subtle, but important
symbols to foreshadow better things (Galloway in Curley and Kramer
62). The character, in this work, has suffered through hardships.
The character?s life is in a total mess at the time. Salinger also
shows foreshadowing to a better life through “The Last Day of the Last
Furlough” (Matuz 157). In the story John Hendren is able Salinger
uses symbolism for the character to fulfill his quest for happiness
(Matuz 148)John Hendren who is in World War II, has always wore large
wooden necklace given to him by his mother (Matuz 148). This same
necklace stops a bullet, which could have killed him(Matuz 149). John
is later awarded a medal of respect for his valiant effort, giving him
lots of fame(Matuz 149). Salinger shows how such symbols provide
happiness to the lives of people (Wenke 237).
Salinger uses allusion from other works to show how happiness will
be fulfilled. In Salinger?s Catcher in the Rye, Salinger refers
greatly in one chapter to ducks in central park. The ducks are in
context to a scripture in the Bible, which tells of how the ducks are
free (Galloway in Bloom 53). Salinger later explains that Holden will
become free as these ducks (Galloway in Bloom 54). In Catcher in the
Rye Holden?s main purpose was to be free from the suffering (Galloway
in Bloom 58). The ducks represented how he would feel, being happy
(Galloway in Bloom 56). Salinger also shows his symbolism from other
works through the work of Mark Twain. Salinger portrays how Holden in
Catcher in the Rye changes to a different man when he is at the water
fountain in Central Park, as the case in Mark Twain?s Huckleberry Finn
in which Huck changes when he is on the Mississippi River (Grunwald in
Bloom 64). Salinger uses symbolism from other books in his books to
convey how the characters in his works will change for a better life
(Grunwald in Bloom 67). Salinger uses much of the symbolism to show
how the life of the characters has become happy. Salinger uses
symbols to show the turning point of the character?s lives. He shows
that these symbols will change their lives for the better.
The works of Salinger show the quest for happiness through
religion, loneliness, and symbolism. Salinger?s writings deal with
characters fulfilling their quest for happiness. He would have the
character?s accomplish their quest by going through obstacles, in
which they learned about their lives. He employed the religion,
loneliness, and symbolism as means for the characters to understand
how to obtain happiness in life. The writings of the Salinger, become
very important for this time period, because he goes against the grain
of society to show how it is wrong. The writings of Salinger, while
they may have been excellent in style, have become very controversial
for what he has portrayed in the society during this time period
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