J. D. Salinger’s Characters as Existential Heroes: Encountering 1950s America

by Kilicci, Esra

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation will analyze Salinger’s three main protagonists, Holden Caulfield, Sergeant X, and Seymour Glass, who could not endure the pain of living a spiritual life in America and achieved symbolic or physical death at the end of their stories. It will challenge existential critic William Wiegand, who uses Kierkegaard’s concept of “Angst.” This dissertation acknowledges Wiegand’s use of the concept of “Angst,” but it opposes his conclusion because it is not acceptable from an existential perspective. Besides Wiegand, social critics such as James Lundquist and Warren French will be referred to. Moreover, Paul Levine’s concept of the “misfit hero” will be related to existentialism and Salinger’s three protagonists. It is the thesis of this dissertation that the self-destructive behaviors of Salinger’s three main protagonists cannot simply be explained based on social, economic, and political factors. Instead, the self-destructive behavior of each protagonist can be explained based on the individual choices that each makes. To conceptualize this study, this dissertation will use existentialism as a theoretical framework because existentialism is foremost an attitude of revolt and it is chiefly rooted in man’s perception that he is living in an irrational universe. An existential perspective will refer to everyday experiences of Holden, Sgt. X, and Seymour, their moods, motivations, fears of failure, and unsuccessful attempts to fit into society. To provide the reader with a better understanding of the significance of the self-destructive behaviors of those protagonists, existential concepts such as identity, freedom of choice, anxiety, and the concepts of death and “Bad Faith” will be utilized. These concepts will help explain the significance of the self-destructive behaviors of Holden, Sgt. X and Seymour which are not solely controlled by society. This dissertation is written with the belief that it will provide a multi-dimensional analysis of Salinger’s three main protagonists by utilizing the concepts found in the writings of Heidegger and Sartre, and while referring to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Camus’ existential insights, thereby expanding the range of meaning that American society can find in the works of this prominent American writer.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Indiana University of Pennsylvania

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:08/07/2008

© 2009 All Rights Reserved.