In this essay, Pecchenino uses Salinger's 1986 lawsuit against his unauthorized biographer, Ian Hamilton, and Random House, Inc. (over Hamilton's use of quotations from Salinger's personal and previously unpublished letters) to explore the highly interpretive natures of U.S. copyright and privacy laws and to show how these complexly interrelated areas of legal discourse manifest themselves in Salinger's fiction. The two opposed rulings in the case (district and appellate courts) reveal the twin purposes of copyright law: to provide the public with great art through the granting of limited monopoly rights to artists, and also to protect art (and by extension, artists) from unfair uses by the public. These two aims, which we might loosely categorize as public and private, find useful analogues in Lionel Trilling's concepts of “sincerity” and “authenticity.”
The essay then turns to Salinger's fiction, arguing that the abundance of letters quoted verbatim in his texts acknowledges the power of the personal epistle to reveal a character's authentic self. Simultaneously, Salinger's most famous character, Holden Caulfield, exhibits a deep anxiety over the act of revealing anything to anyone, in part because once he expresses himself, he is no longer in charge of what people may do with that information. Salinger's lawsuit then can be read as a protection not only of his privacy, but of his authenticity, a twentieth-century creation that is becoming a twenty-first-century obsession.