In the XX century various critical theories and movements came in a continuation of one another like New Criticism, Formalism, Structuralism, and Deconstruction. New Historicism is a part of the postmodern trend in literary history and culture studies. It welcomes the breakdown of genres though it is one of the most powerful disciplines of contemporary literary criticism. New Historicism is a literary trend which explains more about who the writers were and what influenced their works and how their writings were accepted at that time. This approach was discovered in 1980s through the work of Stephen Greenblatt; the founder of the branch, in the opposition to the other literary branch called New Criticism. Firstly, in the United States it has become the dominant discourse in studies of the English Renaissance. Secondly, it has extended its range of practitioners to include those interested in feminism, deconstruction, Marxism, and other discourses. Thirdly, it has moved outside the Renaissance to other periods just as deconstruction came to range beyond romanticism. New Historicism examines how the time period influenced the author’s literature and how the literature describes the author’s time period. It can be clear that every work focuses on the interpretation of the work, instead of the focusing on the facts. Furthermore, poems, plays, novels, art are the products of a specific time and place. In this approach, history serves as a background to literature. New historicism is developed by several critics like Catherine Gallagher, Louis Montrose, and Alan Liu in the United States; they are also influenced by French philosopher Michel Foucault. Their aim was to understand the literary work through its historical context and also to understand the history of ideas, a school of thought, through the culture and literature of the time.
Now we will explore new historic aspects in the literary work written by contemporary American novelist and short story writer, Jerome Salinger and support the ideas mentioned above while analyzing his works. From the end of World War II until the late 1960s, the most popular literary works appeared in American literature. We’ll be able to see Jerome David Salinger in the list of American writers. His works had some influence on later writers and that the themes he explored are an inception point for many postmodern ideas. He is one of the most known for his stories dealing with the intellectual and emotional struggles of adolescents who are alienated from the materialistic world of their parents. He used such literary style as a way for the characters to understand how obtainable happiness is in their life. Salinger is considered controversial during the time period. He went against society to show how wrong he thought it was. The writer made readers see what was wrong during that period in a very different way. From Jerome David Salinger's “Nine Stories” and “The Catcher in the Rye” the perceived madness of the state of affairs in America was brought to the forefront of the nation's literary expression. Alienation and the loss of a sense of self are the main themes in Salinger’s works.
While having a look at the author’s autobiography and his works we understood how psychological catastrophe affected on him where he showed himself. He didn’t want much contact with the external world and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) throughout his life. After the war, Jerome Salinger was perpetually in search of a spiritual treatment for his damaged psyche. It could be clear that the author’s personal life might give us a bright picture of his psychological struggle to process his war experiences. For him, trauma is the darkest point of PTSD. However, it is explored through the mind of the victim during the experience of writing. Furthermore, readers could understand that the writers who suffered from PTSD showed clearly how the people lived daily. Although Salinger never wrote about what he witnessed at the camp, we do know that the experience had a tremendous effect on him and his writing. Moreover, one of the new historic aspects in the “Nine Stories” is the time period that Salinger portrays in the post WWII. While analyzing, readers can understand that the war is one of the key principles in the short stories. Because it shows that the author also took part in the World War II and it’s his experience which influenced on him and his personality. Through the war the writer attempted to give a bright explanation of the period that there were great wars which people suffered from it. Therefore, he tries to show the war through his main character, like Seymour in “A Perfect Day For Bananafish”.The similarities between Seymour’s war experience and Salinger’s own is that the fact expressed in this story are autobiographical and it makes the story much more real and captures an actual dynamic that was occurring in America during the 1950s between those who physically experienced war. According to the title, “A Perfect Day For Bananafish” tells that there is some kind of connection between the Bananafish and Seymour. Once the bananafish come across a hole which is full of bananas. They begin eating bananas greedily until they can’t get out of the hole. However, the bananafish die after eating many bananas. We can see that the main character shoots himself in the head at the end of the short story. Because of suffering from depression, their lives end tragically. By reviewing these works, other secondary sources, and various criticisms on Salinger, it became evident that the war veteran Seymour Glass, like his creator, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In this period, women became self-absorbed, children isolated, men were absent. We can understand the time mentioned above that was Postmodernism. This story which we mentioned above is unique because it covers the effect of the war on the families who were left behind by the men fight. This is a significant choice of detail for Salinger to include because it doesn’t only highlights the tragic irony of life, but also represents one of the pointless deaths that occurred during the war. Jerome Salinger shows the complex relationship of characters that exists only between different members of the society. The author creates simply the representation of truth in his American society and his characters.
All in all, New Historicism takes into consideration the cultural ideas when analyzing literary works and we can learn that new historicist would put attention on what is occurring at the time the text is written, how people understand literary work during the time the work is written. Through New Historicism, we analyze “Nine Stories” and it helps us to show our interpretation of the text. During a time where much of the literature was promoting traditional American values. By examining his works with this purpose in mind, readers may finally recognize them as more than just sentimental portraits of precocious children and psychologically damaged ex-soldiers, or an author’s literary love affair with his own family of characters. According to psychological character study, his heroes are recognized as neurotics, and it can be concluded that his characters can represents both the people of the society in his own time as well as he himself. Certainly, he reflected the chaotic situation in war period through his distressed characters. On the other hand, his characters can represent Salinger himself that is the second important result of the study. A simple comparison between Salinger and his characters shows that he created his characters from his own dispositions and situation. In many of his stories, characters are military soldiers or personnel. Instead, future audiences may learn to appreciate Salinger’s body of fiction as an evolving, meaningful exploration of communication and the complex relationship between silence and noise.
- Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
- Gwynn, Frederick L. and Joseph L. Blotner. The Fiction of J. D. Salinger. Pittsburgh: Universityof Pittsburgh Press, 1958.
- Indira, C.T. “New Historicism and Cultural Materialism.” Contemporary Literary Criticism: Theory and Practice. Vol.II. ed. N. D. R. Chandra. New Delhi: Authors Press, pp. 555–577.
- Cotter, James Finn. «A Source for Seymour's Suicide: Rilke's Voices and Salinger's Nine Stories». Papers on Language & Literature 25.1 (1989): 83–98. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Aug. 2011.
 Terri Tanielian and Lisa H. Jaycox, “Invisible Wounds of War Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery,” Accessed 12 April 2012