J.D. Salinger: Biography, Stories & Facts

Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

This lesson will focus on J. D. Salinger. We'll look at his life and work, the context in which he was writing, the critical reception he received and his influence on others.


Much of American literature explores the power of and the struggles faced by young people, and few writers reflect this as much as J. D. Salinger. In fact, Salinger famously remarked that he writes mostly about young people - a quality of his writing that influenced others and had a profound impact on the literature that came after him.

Salinger was born in 1919 and began writing at a young age. However, he was not a good student, and after multiple unsuccessful stints in college, was drafted into WWII. After leaving the war, Salinger returned to his love of writing and began publishing short stories in various publications. Salinger published his only full-length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951. Salinger's intense reclusive nature (combined with his mysterious lifestyle) made him a strange and sought-after writer. Despite his popularity, he ceased publishing early in his career and refused to grant interviews. Salinger's last published work was a short story appearing in The New Yorker titled 'Hapworth 16th, 1924' in 1965. Salinger died in 2010, leaving behind a collection of unpublished stories that will probably not be released for quite some time.

Salinger was notorious for his attempts to maintain his privacy.
JD Salinger


Salinger's compiled work is relatively small, although there are quite a few stories that are either unpublished or have not been collected into an anthology. Salinger began publishing stories in 1940 in magazines and would go on to have his work appear in The New Yorker and Story, among others. During the 1940s, Salinger began working on his only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which was released in 1951. The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, who has recently been expelled from school. The novel follows Caulfield as he describes his experiences traveling around New York and speaks frankly of his sexual and rebellious activities. Throughout the text, Holden appears as a character who is willing and eager to offer his opinion and criticize the many hypocrisies he witnesses in society; this figure of the bold, almost heroic, teenager continues to be a common image in American literature.

In 1953, a collection of Salinger's previously written short stories was released, titled Nine Stories. The book further established Salinger's literary reputation, and by this point, Salinger was eagerly trying to avoid the people who were pursuing him for interviews and attempting to gain access to his private life. Salinger's next book was Franny and Zooey, published in 1961. The book consisted of two previously published long stories about the experiences of a man named Zooey and his sister, Franny, both of whom belong to the Glass family. Salinger's final book was Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, published in 1963. This book also contains two previously published long stories that center around the Glass family.


One of the most defining and notable aspects of Salinger's work is its use of language, particularly the presence of slang and expletives. The opening sentence in The Catcher in the Rye, for example, use the word 'crap,' which in its context was unusual and upsetting for some readers. More than simply portraying young characters, much of Salinger's work is written from the perspective of young people and uses the slang and vulgar vocabulary employed by young people.

Much of Salinger's stories playfully illustrate the distance between what a subjective, myopic character thinks about him or herself and what is actually the case. Many cite this type of irony in his work as one of his most endearing qualities. Indeed, humor is central to Salinger's work, and his ironic style of narration is considered one of his most important contributions to American literature.


John Updike is one of many authors who have stated that they were influenced by Salinger.
John Updike

Salinger's work has received a variety of strongly divided responses from critics and politicians, ranging from endorsement to censorship. Some critics responded to The Catcher in the Rye as an impressive and daring first novel. However, many others saw the work as unnecessarily crass and as a work that celebrated the downfall of traditional morals. In fact, for many years, the novel was prohibited in American schools and many teachers have received severe punishment for assigning the novel. However, the work has come to be considered one of the best and most important novels of the 20th century and is frequently at the core of American literary education.

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