"Catching on to Catcher in the Rye"

lessons on The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


Lesson 4: Who is this guy Salinger anyway?

The life and background of J.D. Salinger

Developed by Sandy Scragg
Murry Bergtraum High School
New York City, 2002


excerpted from The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, p. 276, Back Bay Books/LittleBrown, copyright 1951


It is normal to be curious about an author when you are enjoying their book. But people seem to be even more curious about the life and background of J.D. Salinger. Most of my students wanted to know: Is he really Holden?


Instructional Objectives: 1) Discovering the interesting life of J.D. Salinger, 2) Evaluate the similarities and differences between Salinger and his character, Holden Caulfield, 3) Discussing the controversies surrounding Salinger and privacy.


Time Required: 4-5 40-minute class periods


Materials/Resources Needed: Web sites listed within "procedures" as appear below.


Vocabulary/Concepts: no special vocabulary needed


Focus Questions/Key Points: 1) Why are so many people curious about the life of J.D. Salinger? 2) What similarities are there between the life of Salinger and Holden Caulfield? 3) Why does Salinger choose to live separate from society?



1) Direct students to both Salinger web sites: (Q&A biography of Salinger ) (biography of Salinger)

2) Have students read both sites--one contains a lot of information in a Q& A format , the other is a brief highlight of the important events of his life.

3) Enter into a discussion regarding Salinger's life: 1) What did you find surprising about J.D. Salinger's life? 2) What intrigued you the most about him? 3) What similarities do you notice to Holden Caulfield? 4) Why do you think he has chosen to live in New Hampshire in near-isolation and shuns publicity? 5) Why are people so curious about J.D. Salinger? [My students were very interested in the fact that Salinger has become a shut-in. Surprisingly, most of them did not mock him or discard him as insane; they supported his desire for privacy and were happy that he did not sell out. Some students even sympathized with him when some fans wrote about meeting him--those students felt as if Salinger was betrayed. Many of them saw similarities between Holden and Salinger, some of them discussing the part in the novel where Holden speaks of a desire to marry a deaf-mute and move to the woods.]

4) Read a fictional account of a meeting with J.D. Salinger in Salon. What does this show you about Salinger's mystique? [None of my students had heard of Salinger before and they were surprised to learn of the obsession some people have with him and his life. Many of them found that disturbing, but also admitted that they were curious as well.]

4) Direct students to the Letters to Salinger site. Postings from this site were published into a widely-available book, but are still available for viewing here. You may want to find a few for students to look at or let them surf. Letters vary from strong criticism to fawning praise.

5) For homework, students must write a letter to Salinger expressing any opinion about him that they wish.

6) The next day, students will post their letter onto the Letters to Salinger site. [Some of my students letters are there, but unfortunately, there is no index on the site and some of them I can't even find! Again, most of my students expressed sympathy and understanding of Salinger in their letters. Some had questions about the novel or decisions Holden made. Most popular: why didn't you let Holden have a girlfriend?]

7) Direct students to the following web site which directs how to send Salinger a letter. Students may be interested in sending their letter to Salinger in print as well in the hopes that it may reach Salinger.

8) The same site also contains information on how to get to Salinger's home in New Hampshire. Ask students if they feel that the public has a right to try to contact or visit Salinger. [Two of my students were interested in trying to write to him or even try to find him. I also brought in the book by Salinger's daughter Margaret, Dream Catcher, for students to look at. Some of my students definitely were bitten by Salingeritis!]

9) Direct students to a New York Times article: "Citing Respect for Salinger, Student Shuts Down the Holden Server." After reading this article [which tells of a Catcher fan who had random quotes from the novel on his website. After receiving complaints from Salinger's agent and then threats from Salinger's lawyers for copyright infringement, he shut down his website out of respect and admiration for Salinger.], ask the students whether or not he should have shut down his site. What did they think of the efforts of Salinger's agent?


Homework: Students must write a letter to J.D. Salinger which they will add to the Letters to Salinger site.


*NOTA BENE: The "Letters to Salinger" site does work, but you may have to refresh your browser a few times. The site is worth the difficulty, so please be patient.



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