Salinger's academic career could best be described as mediocre, for he was never really inclined toward academics. He was particularly weak in mathematics. He attended a public school on the upper West Side in Manhattan and spent his summers at Camp Wigwam in Harrison, Maine. At camp, he was involved in the theater, even though off stage he was a quiet and solitary young boy. At the age of thirteen, Salinger was enrolled in the McBurney School, but within a year flunked out and was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. While he was there, he became interested in writing. He produced his earliest short stories before he graduated in 1936.
After graduating from high school, Salinger was briefly enrolled in Ursinus College, where he wrote a humorous column for the campus newspaper. His father took him out of college to go to Vienna and learn the ham business as an apprentice. On returning to New York, Salinger turned toward more serious writing. He enrolled in Whit Burnett's well-reputed course in short-story writing at Columbia University.
Salinger was first published in Young Folks and The New Yorker, with his first story appearing in 1940. In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army and performed intelligence services in World War II. In 1946, Salinger was discharged from the army and returned to New York, where he resumed his writing of short stories. Several were published in Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, and Story. The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger's only novel, was published in 1951. In 1953, his first collection of short stories, entitled Nine Stories, was published and included the well-known "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Franny and Zooey, published in 1961, is really two separate stories about different members of the Glass family. Another collection of previously published short stories was released in 1963.
Upon his return to New York from the army, Salinger turned towards oriental philosophy and the emerging culture of the "beat" generation. Although he lived with his parents on Park Avenue, he spent the majority of his time in Greenwich Village, where he began to follow the principles of Zen. At the end of the 40s and into the 50s, Salinger spent time in Tarrytown and Westport. He finally settled in Cornish in the New Hampshire hills. In 1953, he met and married Claire Douglas. Although they remained married and had two children, Matthew and Peggy, Salinger lived in almost total seclusion and self-imposed alienation away from his many followers.
Salinger became a devoted student of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, which preaches the concept of the four asramas' or stages of life. According to the philosophy, a person must divide his/her life into four portions, devoted to studies, household duties, retirement to the forest for the sake of meditation, and spirituality, in that order.
Salinger's work is essentially autobiographical and based on his real life experiences. It is ironic, however, that Salinger suggests the need to connect with and understand one another in The Catcher in the Rye; yet in his private life, he sets himself apart from the world.
The Catcher in the Rye, although an original work, bears resemblance to previous works by Salinger, as well as to works of other writers. To fully understand the novel, the reader must have the proper frame of reference. While The Catcher In The Rye is Salinger's only novel, he published a number of short stories. Seymour Glass is a protagonist of quite a few. Holden Caulfield resembles Seymour Glass, as well as all of Salinger's other protagonists, whose common trait is that they are all victims of the society they wish to rebel against. They are hypersensitive individuals who carry deep scars from interacting with the flawed world around them, a world characterized by "phoniness". Outside the Salinger canon, Holden Caulfield can be compared with the protagonist of Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck Finn, Holden is also seeking, though metaphorically, a home, a place where he can be accepted and truly belong.
There is also a parallel between The Catcher in the Rye and William Saroyan's "The Human Comedy". There is an orthographic as well as metrical similarity between the names of the two protagonists, Holden Caulfield and Homer Macanlay. They also have similar ages, for Holden is sixteen, and Homer passes as sixteen. Both works also have an objectionable character called Ackley. Both boys have trouble finding a place in which to fit. Holden Caulfield, however, is much more well known than Homer Macanlay and becomes a symbol of sensitivity for the hippie cult movement in the 60's.