Salinger's Last Published Work and Why it Matters
J.D. Salinger’s last published work, “Hapworth 16, 1924” took up nearly the entire June 19th, 1965 edition of The New Yorker. The piece got mixed (though mostly critical) reviews, which almost certainly contributed to Salinger’s reclusion and refusal to publish any more of his works for the rest of his life. In the context of our class we have discussed the personal intellectual journeys of ourselves, and I think it is worth discussing the intellectual journey of Salinger, briefly. He was a writer with near-rockstar status upon the release of Catcher in the Rye, and then completely disappeared fourteen years later, never to publish anything again. Salinger’s writing stemmed from the WWII experience, first publishing a short story in 1945. His journey is one that grew out of hardship and isolation, as well as died by it.
In other essays I have described Salinger, with the help of critic David Lodge, as a proto-postmodernist or, in Lodge’s words, a “pre-postmodernist.”(1) In “Hapworth,” substantial evidence supports this. Primarily it is the use of intertextuality, which later became a staple of the postmodernist literary genre, that is most striking in Salinger’s last published work. Nearly seven thousand words of the story (which clocks in at a hefty twenty-five thousand words) recounts Seymour Glass’s opinions on various fiction and nonfiction authors of the prior two centuries. He expresses his opinions on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Leo Tolstoy, and the effectiveness of a certain Conversational Italian reader. “Hapworth” also adds a strange level of complexity to the Glass family narrative. It is the earliest chronological story in that larger narrative, but it adds an almost magic realist perspective, as Seymour predicts his own “untimely departure” (2) as well has his brother’s, which in addition to portraying these characters as simply precocious, they appear to be clairvoyant. It is odd that Salinger includes this so late in his published works on the Glass family, and so early as the first Glass story in terms of chronology. The story is complicated and contains supernatural elements, not to mention that the Glass stories were published haphazardly over the course of twenty years, arguably supplying evidence that the Glass narrative is that with unconventionally orders plot, common in postmodernist American literature.
The language of the piece also provides a fascinating insight into Seymour Glass’ character at age seven. He sometimes overuses words like Holden Caulfield, in my opinions, saying that all the things he doesn’t like are “terrible,” and those that he likes as “magnificent.” (Salinger) The former he uses 8 times in the short story, and the latter he uses a whopping 32 times over the course of the short story. I wondered why this supposedly brilliant “chap” (a word that is used 19 times over the course of the text) doesn’t have a broader vocabulary and doesn’t switch up his word usage since he is so incredibly well read. As a part-time data analytics major (technically full time but as these things go I can’t seem to focus for too long), I find the quantifiability of certain words quite intriguing. When I reread that last sentence I realized it was very much something, to my own eyes, that Salinger might have written. My mother, who often believed my writing could be pretentious, would likely object to how I wrote that sentence. Writing something is “quite smart’ or “quite intriguing” seems pretentious, as my mother would likely tell me if I let her read my written ramblings anymore, so I decided to go back into the Salinger text and count how many times the word “quite” was used. Using an online analysis tool on Wordcounter.com, I uncovered an outrageous 254 uses of the word “quite.” Also relevant was 82 uses of the word “God,” usually in such interjections as “My God” etc. and 127 uses of the word “very.” In addition to critiquing the language of the piece, these frequent uses of indirect language indicate more that Seymour uses informal language, and struggles to communicate his more complex feelings. For someone as well-read as he, despite only being seven years old, Seymour shows signs of brilliance but struggles to say anything extraordinary. The piece continues to receive mixed reviews online, but is read heavily despite never officially being published outside of the June 19th, 1965 edition of The New Yorker. Goodreads.com alone has over a thousand ratings of what it calls a “novella,” even though it has only been released unofficially online. (3) The best complete text I found was available through a Ukrainian website that specializes in bringing great works of literature to the masses, which is unusual for a published work by one of America’s most famous writers.
The short story, or novella depending on who you ask opinion, is far from engaging. Nothing happens, and the last stretch of the text is a drawn out series of book reviews on written works great and small. I largely enjoyed the text, but found parts of it unusual. I think that Seymour Glass is the main character of one of Salinger’s most intriguing stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” but I think that is only one of his greatest works because it is somewhat open ended and relies less on backstory. The added context of the story, that Seymour is a prodigious intellectual who loses all meaning in life upon returning from the war, is fascinating. In the context of the Zen aspects of the Seymour Glass story, it is interesting that the character seems to only grow more distant for those around him, culminating in his suicide in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” From what little I know of Zen beliefs, which Salinger practiced later in life and addressed often in his later fiction, it encourages the dissolution of barriers which many belief Salinger placed into his writing. (4) This concept is worth considering as I read further into the Glass stories and into the Seymour stories. It seems that Seymour tries to dissolve the things that separate him from his wife, the children that he befriends, and the Germans he fought as highlighted in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and that not being received by those around him as a friendly person is a part of his depression and suicide. The religion and spirituality of Salinger is another topic I will try to address as I read more of his works.
(1)Lodge, David. “The Pre-Postmodernist.” The New Yorker, 30 Jan. 2010,
Salinger, Jerome David. “Hapworth 16, 1924.” Jerome David Salinger. Hapworth 16, 1924 (1965),
“Hapworth 16, 1924 by J.D. Salinger.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/book/show/915081.Hapworth_16_1924#other_reviews.
Goldstein, Bernice, and Sanford Goldstein. “Zen in The Catcher in the Rye.” Readings on The Catcher in the Rye, edited by Steven Engel, Greenhaven Press, 1998.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.