Salinger and Local Interests in the Philadelphia Area I
His time at the Valley Forge Military Academy, Radnor Pennsylvania
In 1934 J.D. Salinger’s father enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy.Why a military academy? Why a boarding school outside of Philadelphia? We know that Salinger did very poorly at the McBurney School in Manhattan. It can be supposed that Salinger’s father thought that Jerome needed a more strict environment in which to excel. Another advantage that Salinger’s father may have perceived about Valley Forge could have been the location, far enough away from home to make a quick escape back to New York difficult, but close enough for weekend trips home on the train.
J.D. Salinger graduated from the school, but has put himself at odds with the
institution with the discovery that many events that took place in his years at Valley Forge were recorded in his book, The Catcher in the Rye.
Many unfavorable events about the school are described in the first part of the story. Incidents involving the demeanor, intelligence and moral character of the students and faculty are used to illustrate the “phoniness” of the school. Incidents involving an aging history instructor who berates Holden, and roommates who treat him with contempt and take advantage of his generosity take place throughout this section of the book.
Holden states that “Pencey was full of crooks.” He describes an advertisement in one of “about a thousand magazines”, which shows “some hot shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence”. “Strictly for the birds”, he continues. “I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place.” Today, Valley Forge Military Academy continues to advertise in the New York Times Magazine, although there is no horse in the current advertisement. These advertisements may have helped Salinger’s father decide that this was the school for Jerome to attend.
While Salinger describes many unhappy events at “Pencey Prep”, he seems
to have participated in many activities and did graduate. Salinger was a member of the Glee Club, the French Club, the Aviation Club, and worked on the school yearbook, contributing a poem to his yearbook. Salinger did leave a permanent mark at Valley Forge Military Academy. He wrote the school song, which is still sung today at graduation ceremonies.
Salinger and Local Interests in the Philadelphia Area II
Salinger and his time at Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA
Two years after graduating from Valley Forge Military Academy, Salinger enrolled in Ursinus College, in Collegeville, Pennsylvania for one semester. While there he wrote 9 columns in the Ursinus College student newspaper. The column was entitled JDS’s Skipped Diploma.
Salinger spent the two years traveling to Europe with his father for what some biographers suppose was to learn the family business. Salinger has made reference that his goal of his trip to Europe was to learn and be exposed to the German and Polish languages.
At least one of the events he describes in his column at Ursinus made its way into the Catcher in the Rye in a slightly revised form.
This event involves a discussion Salinger had a on train trip home to New York and is full of cynicism, lies and exaggerations. He takes the same train ride on his trip to New York when he meets the mother of a student who attends Pencey Prep with him. While Holden in reality detests the woman’s son, he describes what a wonderful and intelligent person her son is, and how popular her son is at the school. Holden describes himself as “a terrific liar” many times throughout the story.
Again one must wonder, why Ursinus College? The college is close to Philadelphia and Valley Forge Military Academy. Perhaps Salinger had developed a close friend or some feelings toward the area. No one is sure, but one entry in his column may give a clue to his fleeing New York for a second time. In his column of October 10, 1938 Salinger writes “Once there was a young man tired of trying to grow a moustache. This same young man did not want to go to work for his Daddykins- or any other unreasonable man. So the young man went back to college.”
The Skipped Diploma often also included reviews of current films and Broadway shows. Salinger also writes some poetry and prose containing aspects of his experiences at Ursinus, many of which are not favorable to the school and the educational process in general.
He stayed at Ursinus for only one semester, and moved on the a short story writing class at Columbia University the next year.