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Historical Context

In a sense, The Catcher in the Rye took J.D. Salinger thirty years to write. As Salinger has admitted, Holden Caulfield is based in part upon his own experiences growing up, and the first twenty years of Salinger's life could be considered research, with the next ten devoted to the conception and completion of the novel. Salinger came from a well-off family, living like Caulfield's on Park Avenue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Also like Caulfield, he boarded at a Pennsylvania prep school.

After high school Salinger spent a year in Europe (mainly in Austria), but returned home when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1938. He did not graduate from college, but in 1939 took a course at Columbia taught by the editor of Story, a distinguished fiction magazine. In the next two years, Salinger had five stories accepted for publication by major magazines and journals. One, called "A Slight Rebellion Off Madison," accepted by The New Yorker in 1941, features a main character named Holden Morissey Caulfield, and provides an early version of chapter 17 (in which Holden tries to talk Sally into going to New England with him). Another story, called "I'm Crazy," was published in Collier's in 1945 and became the basis for chapters 1, 2, and 17. The persona of Caulfield developed through these and to a lesser degree many other stories Salinger published in the '40s. Salinger apparently had a ninety-page Caulfield novelette accepted for publication in 1945, but withdrew it prior to publication, reworked it, and The Catcher in the Rye finally was published in 1951.

The '40s were a tumultuous time for Salinger, and indeed, the world. Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and remained there until his discharge in 1945, participating in the D Day assault on Utah Beach. During this time he was hospitalized with a "nervous condition," perhaps suggesting Caulfield's own condition. At the beginning of 1953, Salinger moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, and commenced on a path of personal obscurity while The Catcher in the Rye became ever more widely known. His last published story appeared in 1965, and he has since averaged no more than two interviews per decade. Most of his early stories have remained unpublished for decades (despite the evident demand filled in part by numerous bootleg collections). Catcher, meanwhile, has become one of the twentieth century's bestselling literary works, while at the same time receiving "the most attempts at being banned" (according to the American Library Association). Salinger has continued to write, simply declining to publish (he has called publishing "a vicious, vicious thing"), and accumulating a body of work to be released after his death.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 8 and 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17 and 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21 and 22
Chapter 23 and 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26



 






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