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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.

Salinger 66).

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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