The Post-War Era and The Catcher in the Rye Junior AP English Glass
Historical Context: WWII • The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. • August, 1945: first atomic bombs used in warfare dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki • Reasons for the bombings controversial • President Truman in his radio speech from Aug. 9, 1945: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come.”
Historical Context: WWII • Hiroshima’s civilian population was approx. 300,000. It was also an important military center, containing about 43,000 soldiers. • Death toll estimates for both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are only approximate: In Hiroshima, approx. 70,000 people immediately killed as result of initial blast, heat, and radiation effects. After five years, the death total was approx. 200,000+ due to cancer and other long-term effects. In Nagasaki, approx. 40,000 people were immediately killed. After five years, the death total was approx. 140,000.
Historical Background: WWII • On August 10, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, the only condition being that the emperor be allowed to remain the nominal head of state. • Review question: What attitude did the WWII veteran who spoke at the beginning of Empire of Signs (video) voice toward the bombings?
The Post-War Era • After end of WWII (1945), growing confidence in U.S. military and economic might • End of war rationing meant access to consumer items • Opportunities for employment for many (although women employed in wartime factories often exited the workforce) • Burgeoning consumer culture of “luxury for the masses”
The Cold War • 1946: Churchill coins the term “Iron Curtain” • 1948-9: Berlin Airlift (Soviet Union attempts to gain control of Berlin via blockade; is thwarted by U.S./British airlift) • 1949: Communists take control in China; Chairman Mao Tse-Tung travels to Moscow and negotiates Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance.
The Cold War • 1950: North Korean Communist troops invade South Korea; U.S. and U.N. intervene • 1951: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are convicted of selling U.S. atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. They are executed in 1953, despite protests of some who believe they were targets of Red Scare “witch-hunt” • 1950-1954: The Joseph McCarthy Era—investigations into alleged Communists in the government; ended in McCarthy’s being discredited by the U.S. Army
Culture of the Post War/Cold War Era • Symbols and signs of optimism, wealth, and vulgarity: *the car (In the ’50s, 20% of GNP of U.S. went to purchasing vehicles) * gaudy colors & chrome * the supermarket (with an astounding selection of goods) *home appliances (the “mod cons”) * the suburbs Levittown: considered first planned, mass- produced community in the suburbs; built 1947-1951 on Long Island
The Mainstream vs. The Artists • While the mainstream was embracing the consumerism and prototypical suburban family, many artists felt isolated and disconnected from the mainstream. • These artists were often seeking: *apolitical subject matter that was avant-guard *a divergence from past art forms *sublime beauty and transcendence (…we are back to Emerson and Thoreau in some ways) * reactions and meaning-making from the viewers/readers/listeners
Discuss: How can we characterize the overall Zeitgeist of the late 1940’s-1950’s?
About Salinger • Born 1919 in New York City to parents Sol and Miriam; father was Jewish, mother, Catholic • Attended public and private schools in Manhattan; then Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania (may be basis for Pencey Prep) • Attended New York University and Ursinus College, but did not graduate from either
About Salinger • Distinguished himself as writer in second semester of night class at Colombia with Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine • First publication appeared in 1940 in Story: “The Young Folks” • Many stories submitted to, and rejected by, The New Yorker
About Salinger • In December 1941, The New Yorker accepted “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” about a teenager named Holden with "pre-war jitters." • Story was not published until 1946 because deemed inappropriate after Pearl Harbor attack in same month
About Salinger • Served in WWII: participated in D-Day Landings in 1944; was one of first soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp • Was treated for shell shock, aka combat stress reaction, after the war • Met and began correspondence with Earnest Hemingway while overseas; E.H. called Salinger “a helluva talent”
About Salinger • Critically acclaimed “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” published in The New Yorker in 1948 • The Catcher in the Rye, featuring Holden Caulfield, was published on in July 1951 • Salinger on Catcher: "My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book.… [I]t was a great relief telling people about it.”
About Salinger • Novel was immediate popular success but also faced criticism for profanity, irreverance, and other “inappropriate” content • Attention after publication of Catcher led Salinger to move to a small town in New Hampshire • Most recent well-known publications are from the 1960’s: best-known is Franny and Zooey (1961), from a series of stories about the Glass family (no relation). • Salinger lived as relative recluse until his death in 2010, very rarely giving interviews, with no publications since 1965
About Salinger’s techniques and themes • Techniques/aspects of style: *internal monologue *sparse but revealing dialogue *young characters as focus * colloquialisms intermingled with elevated diction • Themes in Catcher and other works: * youthful innocence and the loss thereof * alienation and isolation of the individual * failure to live up to parental and society’s expectations Be on the lookout for these elements!