The Young Folks

The Young Folks
Original Publication DateMarch 1, 1940 Rating

The Young Folks was Salinger’s first-published story, and is one of the higher-quality works by the young writer. It hints at what the author was capable of, if only slightly, by focusing on how personal interactions and dialog even in ordinary circumstances can bring up much deeper questions. Written when Salinger was not yet 21 and published in the magazine of Whit Burnett, his short story composition teacher at Columbia University, the characters and setting were likely drawn from the author’s own life.

Salinger lovingly presents home-from-college Edna’s attempt to connect with anyone at a circa-1935 house party, even the unlovable Bill. That their mundane exchange will soon be pushed from the minds of both leaves the reader in Edna’s place, searching for meaning. He chooses to frame the story by following matchmaking Lucille as she introduces the pair, but it is Edna we relate to. She is not exactly desperate; indeed, she insists that she rebuffed the advances of amorous artist Barry. But Edna is alone, wanting to find someone or something real at the party and failing miserably.

Although she is no Holden Caulfield, Edna can strike similar nerves. She wants the world to be better, friendlier, and more pure. She claims to have been offended by Barry’s advances but equivocates about Bill, claiming he too was “a trifle warm-blooded.” The reader knows that this is anything but the case; Bill was a disinterested bore. That Edna felt the need to lie about his character calls into question her stories about Barry and pretty Doris. It is this same frustratingly real mix of sincerity and phoniness that Salinger wields so well in his later writing.

The Young Folks is difficult to locate. It only appeared in a single volume, Story magazine, which thankfully was at least somewhat plentiful and preserved. I was able to locate a copy at a well-stocked University library and others will likely have the same luck if they persevere. Although it is not of sufficient quality to warrant a trip on its own, any library with The Young Folks is likely also to have copies of Once a Week Won’t Kill You, The Long Debut of Lois Taggett, and Elaine.


  • Story XVI, March-April 1940 () 26-36