Seymour: A Postscript
To the Editor:
What J. D. Salinger has done to merit the sustained abuse of literary critics is beyond me. . . . The constant lament seems to be: Oh, J. D., your raised our hopes so high, only to let us down!
Yet none of the critics (to my knowledge) has been bold enough to let us know what he expected. We only get hints here and there that betray the vexing turmoil into which Salinger has thrown the liberal ideologues. He has . . . upset all their grand plans, and now they take their revenge by declaring, like Alfred Chester [“Salinger: How to Love without Love,” June] that Salinger is really a dead end (“All roads lead back to Seymour, or silence, or both”).
Catcher in the Rye was pleasing to the liberal psyche because it attacked the pseudo-sophisticated American middle classes, that unruly, status-conscious group which sustained the New Deal and then turned around to smite the old leaders by an abrupt turn to radical conservatism. . . .
But just when the liberal critics thought they had a new spokesman, old J. D. shifted gears. Lo and behold, the middle-class suburbanites were not the only phonies: they were in the universities and colleges too, swarming over the campus in the form of teaching assistants, undergraduates, graduate students, and even, heaven forbid, professors of English. . . .
Salinger was great while he stuck to surface gestures which showed the grotesquesness of the middle class, Chester implies, but once he strayed onto the campus and started probing the libido of the intellectuals it hurt like mad. But the liberals have amazing recuperative powers, especially when they dominate the intelligent journals of opinion. . . . Salinger . . . can only be dismissed by means of the liberal critics’ repeated claims that he is meaningless.
Michael E. Parrish