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J. D. Salinger, Genius and Madman

September 18, 2017

J. D. Salinger’s novel “Catcher in the Rye,” is a famous classic, ever-relevant piece of work. The novel was published in 1951 and quickly acquired acclaim, but before its release, it was brutally shot down more than once. Salinger was told that his main character was insane and a family with four exceptional children was untenable.

When “Catcher in the Rye” was published, J. D. Salinger was unprepared for the admiration he’d receive. Holden Caufield, the “insane” main character was based on himself, and he never expected so many to make a connection with his character or himself.

“Catcher in the Rye” is what will come to one’s mind when Salinger’s name is mentioned, but he has also published many, short stories; in fact, it was his intention to write one story a week. The characters in his stories and the flesh and blood members of his family often competed for his attention, love, and affection. Indeed, he built a “bunker” on his property where he’d stay over a week at a time, and while he was there, all knew to leave him alone. Salinger quit publishing his stories in 1965, but he never stopped writing. After his death in 2010, it was found he had written as many as 5 new novels which he had stipulated could not be published until after his death.

Salinger’s need and obsession with seclusion isolated his family so much that they began to feel his depression and loneliness. His wife filed for divorce.

Salinger wasn’t always so reclusive; in fact, early in his career, he visited clubs and was quite sociable. Salinger was always eccentric, an extreme perfectionist and a bit unstable in his moods. He ended a friendship with an editor, calling him names, making accusations of betrayal and storming out of the restaurant, because the editor had allowed the title of one of his stories to be changed. He once fell into a depression, because one comma was added to another story.

J. D. Salinger was a genius ensconced in madness. In the 1980’s, three assassins blamed their actions on their fascination with the Holden Caulfield, the main character of “Catcher in the Rye.” They blamed their actions on the “darkness” found in Caufield’s soul; essentially, placing the blame for their actions on Salinger’s life and art. But did Chapman murder John Lennon because of this book? Did Hinckley attempt to murder Reagan because of it? Was actress Rebecca Schaeffer slain by Bardo because he identified with Caulfield, a tormented young man seeking his place in the world? No, these actions were made by tormented men unable to find their place in the world, and they will be forgotten.

J. D. Salinger, on the other hand, will be remembered as the tormented young man who found his place, despite how out of place he felt.

 

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