THE CATCHER IN THE RYE AND BIOGRAPHY. Ron Rosenbaum had an article in Slate (September 12) with the title “He’s Not Holden!The one big mistake people make about Salinger and Catcher in the Rye.” The literary fallacy he refers to is the mistake of reading a work of fiction as an autobiography—and, in particular, reading THE CATCHER IN THE RYE as if Holden Caulfield is J. D. Salinger.
Back some 50 years ago, when CATCHER IN THE RYE came out and I was taking literature courses, I learned, and largely adopted, a New Criticism approach to reading. This wikipedia article says: “New Criticism developed in the 1920sâ€“30s and peaked in the 1940sâ€“50s….New Critics focused on the text of a work of literature and tried to exclude the reader’s response, the author’s intention, historical and cultural contexts, and moralistic bias from their analysis.”
In our short story study group, we are still fighting the criticism battles of 50 years ago. A couple weeks ago, one person took a biographical approach to “The Second Tree from the Corner”. A debate on literary theory ensued. E.B.White, the author had said it was autobiographical, but what does an author know about his story anyway?