Children are typically associated with innocence, security, and salvation. The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and For Esme With Love and Squalor have more in common than having J. D. Salinger as their author.
In each of these works, children are portrayed as a window to happiness, and as an escape from the problems going on in the characters' lives. In The Catcher in the Rye, the main character is a troubled teen named Holden. He is in a stage of life where he is afraid to move forward into a "phony" world, yet he cannot stay a child forever. He cherishes children, and all he wishes to do is protect them from corruption.
Holden remarks on one of the children he interacts with; "She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid's nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are." (Salinger 119). Holden doesn't like too many things in life, but he loves the innocence of children. Preserving this purity is his only concern, without this he would have nothing.
Holden has a younger sister, Phoebe. Phoebe is quite possibly the most important person in his life, and he cares for her deeply. Holden and Phoebe are very close because they are both on the same level; "I mean if you tell old Phoebe something, she knows exactly what the hell you " re talking about." (67). When Holden leaves school and goes back to New York, it is not his parents he goes to visit, it is Phoebe. Also, when Holden is visiting Phoebe and he hears his parents he hides. This is another example of him running from adults and then seeking the refuge of children.
In Franny and Zooey, all the characters seem to have their share of problems. However, everyone finds their share of happiness somewhere. Mrs. Glass has a few children - one is having a sort of nervous breakdown, another committed suicide, and the other cannot seem to get over his brother's suicide. Mrs. Glass is happy when she looks aback at how things used to be, when all her children were doing fine; "'You all used to be so sweet and loving to each other it was a joy to see...
Just a joy,' " (118). Mrs. Glass's precious children have grown into their own lives and problems, but she still cherishes what remains in her memory of them. Zooey, the middle child, is torn between the suicide of his older brother and the breakdown of his younger sister.
He, like his mother, looks back at himself and his siblings when they were younger. Unlike Holden Caulfield however, he knows all too well that in time everyone matures. At one point, Zooey is talking to his sister Franny when he looks out the window. Across the street is a school, and he watches a youthful girl play with her puppy and tells Franny; "'... there are nice things in the world - and I mean nice things.
We " re all such morons to get so sidetracked... .' " (152). Like Holden Caulfield, the characters in Franny and Zooey also use children as an escape. The entire plot of J.
D. Salinger's short story For Esm'e With Love and Squalor is a worn soldier meeting a young girl and becoming a rejuvenated person. The soldier goes into a coffee shop, and comes across a girl who is about fourteen years old, and her little brother. The soldier has a conversation with this girl, Esm'e, and finds that she is quite mature for her age.
She keeps her younger in line, and scolds him for being foolish. This is ironic because she is young herself, and her parents should be reprimanding her. The soldier particularly enjoys talking with Esm'e, and is amazed [and in a way amused] by her sophisticated manner. After going home, the former insomnia of the soldier was cured, and he was able to sleep peacefully for the first time in a long while. Esm'e makes the soldier remember that all is not lost, and there are still good things to live for. The stress of fighting in a war and watching your comrades be slaughtered is a trying experience.
The soldier's spirit was slowly crushed by the war, and the lonely life that being in the military brings; "This unexpected demonstration of unadulterated affection redeems the sergeant from his private hell and allows him to go to sleep." (Warren 77 78) Meeting someone like Esm'e is just what the soldier needs in order to recuperate. Having a philosophical conversation with a young girl who has been alive about 1/3 rd of the time he has, makes the soldier become interested in life once again. When J. D. Salinger's literary characters interact with children, it is almost like for a short time they view the world through eyes that don't assume or hate; the pure chaste eyes that could only be of a child.
This reviving experience makes them see life in a way that they had once forgotten. In each of these three works, J. D. Salinger praised children as the redemption song of the world, and a small escape from a tense, over-analyzed, tired world.