Buddhism in the Art of J. D. Salinger

This is a tad obscure: here is an abstract from a paper, at a site called “Engineering Science Paper.” The site seems to be a robot-collected set of engineering and science-related papers. – Buddhist art news

Title Buddhism in the Art of J. D. Salinger

Buddhism was established in ancient India by Sakyamuni (in English, Sage of the Sakyas). It was spread into China around the first century and experienced great development. Japan and South East Asia received its influence afterward. The local culture has been greatly influenced where Buddhism was spread. The major theories of Buddhism include the four Noble Truths, which explained the state that life is suffering, its cause, the fact that suffering has an end and the road to it. At the 19th century, Buddhism spread into Europe and America, and began to influence the western culture. The 20th century saw the widening and deepening of Buddhist influence on America. Many famous writers showed their contact by Buddhism in their works, such as Gary Snider and Jack Kerouac.Jerome David Salinger was one of the most important American writers in the middle of the 20th century. Since the end of the Second World War, Salinger has been very close to Buddhism. After his enormous success with The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger chose to live reclusively in the countryside of New Hampshire, and traces of Buddhism appear more and more common in his later works. Salinger’s writings are devoted to the narration of time periods, instead of the whole process of the story. He succeeded in reflecting the mental suffering of the young generation, and received echoes from the readers.Many critics in the U. S. have made their study on relations between Salinger and Buddhism. Gerald Rosen published a book titled Zen in the Art of J. D. Salinger, which concentrates on the Zen influence in the works of J. D. Salinger, especially in The Catcher in the Rye. So far the studies in this field are restricted to one or two books of Salinger, and their comments on Buddhism in his works are often not systematic.

Though Salinger enjoyed great fame in the U. S., and his influence on the young generation is incomparable, because of certain reasons, translations of his works and other introductions didn’t appear until the 80s’. And up till now, only part of his works has been translated. In China, the studies on him started very late. Few have made explicit studies on Salinger’s works, and the relation of Buddhism with his arts is rarely touched by Chinese researchers.The appropriate reading of the Buddhist influence on Salinger is the key to the right understanding of the writer and his writings. This thesis analyzes the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and their influence and reflections in Salinger’s works, aiming at revealing the relation between Salinger’s writings and the eastern religion.First, the first and second Noble Truths are life is suffering, which comes from physical level and mental level. People’s selfish craving is the cause of human suffering, Seymour is a genius when he was young, but he suffered from unmentioned wounds when he grew up. He was wounded physically, and he can not communicate with surrounding people. He can not adapt himself to the changes on him and the surrounding environment, which lead to his unbearable pain and finally his death. The other Glass family stories also were filled with all kinds of human sufferings. Human suffering is most commonly reflected in The Catcher in the Rye. Since the very beginning, when Holden left school, his suffering began. His sufferings were not only in physical level, but also in his complicated feelings toward his families. As Holden would not like to face the changes of the world, and dreamed to keep the same world as when he was young, the difference between his dreaming and the real world annoyed him. Finally he was able to give up his holding on and accept the changes, which relieved him. The structure of Holden’s story is similar to that of Sakyamuni, and to some extent Holden is Buddha before enlightenment.Secondly, the later two Noble Truths tell that human suffering has an end and the Eightfold Paths are the right way to the end of suffering. Franny Glass pursues enlightenment constantly under Salinger’s pen. When the story of her started, she behaves differently from her materialized boyfriend. And after collapse she practiced repeating the Jesus Prayer (which is typically the practice of Pure Land sect of Buddhism). However, in “Zooey”, Franny met with more severe mental crisis. Zooey tried to let Franny know that her biggest problem is he doesn’t understand her selfish cravings are the fundamental causes of her suffering. Detachment is the only way to free her from pains. Zooey finally succeeded in persuading Franny to give up her fault-finding habit toward people around her, and her inappropriate views toward the world. Franny get peace after her telephone talk with her brother.Thirdly, as Salinger was deeply influenced by Buddhism, many other concepts of Buddhism were seen in his works. Reincarnation was mentioned several times by his created characters. And just because of their understanding of reincarnation, Seymour and Teddy can face death peacefully. Emptiness is another concept permeated in the works of Salinger. As everything will vanish, Buddhism considers the present is the most important. Salinger usually described only a little period of time in his writings. But Buddhism emphasize Dependent Rising, which means everything is not independent, so the reader should not be restricted to the surface, instead, they should explore deep into the words to find out what is hidden by Salinger. Buddha Nature is a special notion of Buddhism, meaning everybody has the potential to become Buddha. Teddy and Zooey know that people have Buddha Nature and use this notion to modify their views of the world.By the analysis above, we can see that Buddhist influences are everywhere in Salinger’s works. Firstly, Buddhism determined the story structure, such as The Catcher in the Rye and “Franny”. Secondly, the creation of the characters of Salinger was influenced by Buddhism. The young Seymour and Teddy are the incarnation of Buddha. Holden is a mirror image of Buddha before enlightenment. What is more, Buddhism is the topic of the talking and the way to peace for the characters under Salinger. In one word, the influence of Buddhism on Salinger is deep, in many field, and even decisive. Buddhism performs as the theoretic backbone of the novel and stories by Salinger. Just because of the Buddhist theories adopted by Salinger, the structure and key significance of his works are lifted. As Buddhism played a very important part in enhancing Salinger’s literary achievement, the right understanding of Buddhism theories is the key to the right understanding of Salinger and his writings.



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