J.D. Salinger Was Basically Holden Caulfield

By | January 24, 2020

After publishing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger got out of town

J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye in 1951 and then spent the rest of his life running away from its central character, Holden Caulfield. He didn't want to talk about the book, what it meant, or how it figured into his own similar upbringing. He even wrote short stories and novellas that tried to put the idea of J.D. Salinger as an angry young man to rest. He wanted the world to think he was a phony, just like everyone that Caulfield hated. The more Salinger tried to hide from his most popular creation, however, the clearer it became that he actually was the boy in the people-shooting hat wondering where the ducks go.

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Source: Vanity Fair

Salinger was born in Manhattan, and as a lifelong urbanite, he enjoyed the way the city moved, its cold winter streets, and the thrum of the crowd. After the publication of Catcher in the Rye, however, he went from anonymous Manhattanite to literary celebrity. In 1953, he came to the conclusion that contact with the public was a hindrance to his work, so on his birthday, he moved to a 90-acre rural compound in Cornish, New Hampshire. In doing so, he accomplished what Holden couldn't. He took the dough he made and lived the rest of his life in "a little cabin somewhere," free from "any g--damn stupid conversation with anybody."

His PTSD affected him for his entire adult life

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Source: The National Post

Like Caulfield, Salinger suffered from a deep depression, but unlike the young boy, the author's mental distress came from his service during World War II. On D-Day, Salinger was a part of the second wave to storm Utah Beach, and while he managed to avoid the most heavily concentrated German defenses, he still witnessed some of the worst violence of his life.

As bad as the attack was, his most harrowing time during the war came when he was a part of a regiment meant to sweep the Hürtgen forest of German soldiers. The area was more heavily fortified than his commanding officers believed, and Salinger's friends and colleagues were killed by tree bursts and terrible weather alike. Almost half of the 2,517 casualties in the 12th Infantry died because of the elements.

Salinger carried the pain and depression that stemmed from his service throughout his entire life. On the pages of his work, violence and the military were portrayed as evil, while the innocent and conversations around the home were emblematic of ultimate good. It's likely that he spent much of the rest of his life trying to understand the horrors of World War II.