Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. William R. Thompson
Although the concept of alienation is not new in American literature, it is a theme which has appeared with growing frequency and intensity in the past two decades. Among the many contemporary writers to deal with the problem of alienation, J.D. Salinger is particularly interesting because he deals with alienation in the young and because his most recent fictional characters find a means of reconciling themselves to the problem of alienation. To Salinger’s characters, ours is an abhorrent world in which to grow up: morality and humanitarianism are assumed to be hypocrisy; power and profit are the great Gods; moralists are associated with bigots and opportunists; and the money to be made serves no purpose unless one spends it on status display, conspicuous consumption, or diversions provided by a garish entertainment industry. In such a world, one lacking in inherent meaning and one in which communication and communion are impossible, Salinger’s alienated individuals suffer from various types and varying degrees of alienation. They also grapple with the problem in different ways and find, or fail to find, a satisfying solution to the problem. In treating the theme of alienation Salinger points up the failure of bridges that are meant to link the young and the old; arguments against both academic and social conformity of the period; and inability of individuals to communicate with one another; the substitutes for traditional values and beliefs; affection between siblings or peers as a partial substitute for missing child-parent relationships; and the mending power of a general, nonsexual love between human beings. Salinger’s characters meet the problem of alienation in various ways: the characters of his earlier fiction confront the human condition by committing suicide and suffering from mental breakdowns; other characters face the problem by withdrawing into a world of fantasy, immersing themselves in memory and alcohol or running away; later characters turn to mysticism and the teachings of Zen Buddhism with the most affirmative characters finding a solution through love. Consequently, one of the most significant implications of Salinger’s work is that perceptive people have difficulty in remaining operative or even surviving in our world. Since no man can survive in isolation, people must learn to expect less, to accept human frailties and imperfections; if they cannot love, they cannot live. The American community is the only community they have to love, and love is their only salvation.
Copyright 1967 Virginia Lee Bornholdt
Bornholdt, Virginia Lee, "Alienation in the Fiction of J. D. Salinger" (1967). Master's Theses. 1037.