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 Bryfonski 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 215).
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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