Charles McGrath writes about the initial reaction to “Catcher,” and about its enduring power:
  • Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, “Catcher” became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.

  • With its cynical, slangy vernacular voice (Holden’s two favorite expressions are “phony” and “goddam”), its sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America and quickly attained cult status, especially among the young. Reading “Catcher” used to be an essential rite of passage, almost as important as getting your learner’s permit.

  • by Cicely Richard

  • Created on: August 06, 2008

  • Originally published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger became the symbol teenage angst, isolation and possibly mental instability. It chronicles the day in the life of Holden Caulfield after his dismissal from Pencey Prep boarding school. Holden is an angry young man who spews profanity and is delusional as he recounts the day's events. Although it is listed as one of the classic novels of the 20th century, it commonly lands on banned books lists because of the controversy surrounding its content.

Although the novel is commonly read in high schools and universities, Salinger wrote the book for adults. The fact that the book was written for adult is probably why it is laden with profanity and sexual references. However, this is the reason why many high schools, over the years, have banned the book. Many communities have gone so far as to ban the book from their public libraries because of the content. The controversy seems to resurface constantly, even as the world seems to be more liberal. As recently as the 2006, the book landed on banned book lists.

  • Besides the adult language and sexual situations presented in The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has been blamed for extreme anti-social behavior in young individuals, primarily males. In the 1980s, Holden's connection with the loner came to a head when three young men committed heinous acts, two ending in the deaths of innocent people.

  • The first incident occurred in 1980, when Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon. He was carrying a copy of the book at the time he was arrested. The second incident happened a year later when an unstable young man named John Hinckley, Jr. plotted to kill President Ronald Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley said that The Catcher in the Rye was his favorite book.

  • To me the creepiest of the bunch was Robert John Bardo, who took a bus all the way from Tucson, Arizona to Hollywood because he was obsessed with My Sister Sam actress Rebecca Schaeffer. He found out her home address by going to the DMV, stalked her for a while, and even went to her house to get her autograph. This is similar to what Chapman did before killing Lennon. Bardo carried a copy of the book with him when shot the actress in cold blood in front of her apartment. He got rid of the evidence and went back to Tucson where he was arrested. I've seen the police interview and he was disconnected and almost made light of Schaeffer's horrified reaction. He's still in prison for the murder.

  • These three aforementioned cases and other young men who have used the Holden Caulfield defense led people to assume that the book is dangerous to the psyche of teenagers. I guess they feel that, if an already unstable person reads the book, they will go over the edge. Someone even wrote a book denouncing the book, claiming that it is behind the criminal actions of a number of individuals.

  • Basically, fear of what may happen has been the reason most of the controversy surrounding The Catcher in the Rye.

  • by Starbuck21

  • Created on: July 10, 2008

  • Holden Caufield, the smoking, cursing, prostitute-soliciting hero of "Catcher in the Rye," does not exactly inspire parental confidence. From the 60s all the way to the 80s J. D. Salinger's novel was the most censored title in both US schools and libraries. Parental groups and school officials have tried (sometimes successfully) to keep the book from being taught in classrooms. Teachers have even lost jobs because they've assigned the book in class. The most infamous case occurred in Oklahoma in 1960; fortunately she was reinstated but the damage was done. The school removed "The Cather in the Rye" from its curriculum. Two infamous assassins, Mark Chapman (John Lennon's assassin) and John Hinkley Jr. (President Regan's attempted assassin) added fuel to the proverbial fire when copies of the J. D. Salinger novel were found on them after each instance.

Censors have listed potty language, sexual fantasies, and alcohol abuse as making the novel obscene and completely inappropriate for teens. For those who are unfamiliar with "Catcher in the Rye," here is the plot: young Holden Caufield wanders through New York City during 1947 after his fourth expulsion from another pricey prep school. Holden aims to have a good time away from parents and rules, but instead he sinks further into depression, haunted by personal loss and crippling loneliness. "Catcher in the Rye" has been accused of promoting immorality, while Holden was labeled as a bad role model for young adults. In this case, I believe that censors have the best intentions; they want to protect their kids from potentially bad influences.

  • However, I have a suggestion for those who want to censor "The Catcher in the Rye" and other controversial novels: read the book again, closely. Holden Caulfield does drink and hire prostitutes, but his behavior doesn't promote these activities. In fact, Holden acts out because he's desperately unhappy and confused. I believe that this book provides teachers, students, and parents the opportunity to discuss the implications of drinking, smoking, and sex.
  • As much as we all want this world to be a safe and secure place for teens and children, it's not. In real life, kids engage in dangerous behavior and "Catcher in the Rye" captures this tendency beautifully. Instead of censoring this book, parents and educators should use it to help teach kids about life and growing up. Holden Caulfield can do your kids some good if you let him.

  • by Will Emaus

  • Created on: February 25, 2010 Last Updated: February 26, 2010

  • In 1951, J.D. Salinger released The Catcher in the Rye. It's the story of a young man named Holden Caulfield, the original rebel of the 50's and is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of all-time.

  • In 1951, Post World War II America was still a fairly straight laced bunch of folks. Holden Caulfield was anything but straight laced. Having flunked out of his 4th school, he became the blueprint for all of the "cool" teens that would follow him.

He made being confused into cool, angry became cool. Defiant, deviant, bad even. This all became OK as The Catcher in the Rye made it's way into classroom after classroom in the United States.

  • The effect that this 214 page book has had across the Country has always been troubling. First, that so many schools considered the book to for some reason be required reading for teenagers. And of course the very predictable manner that parents opposed this and have challenged the book. It has been one of the most challenged books in the United States for many, many years.

  • Holden Caulfield is at his essence an incredibly annoying person. He can be a typical teenager in some respects, but the ironic thing is that he may have set the blueprint for the teenager of the 50s rather than just being one of them; and teachers for whatever reason didn't see any harm in that.

  • The truth is that there was potentially quite a bit of harm in that, but the separation of church and state didn't seem to quite want to engage the reason why. Teenagers, learning from the likes of Holden Caulfield, find it acceptable to delay their progress into adulthood and detour down the road of rebelliousness.

  • This seemed to have been regarded as more of less harmless fun. Teenagers would of course then grow up later, have their own children and progress away from the discretions of their own youth.

  • Teenagers today aren't allowed to drink until they are 21, they are considered in society's eyes to be "not ready" for this responsibility to either themselves or others.

  • Not to put too dramatic a spin on things, but The Catcher in the Rye was pushed to teenagers in the 50s like Holden Caulfield's behavior was something for other teens to aspire to. Some of those teenagers, who Holden Caulfield in fact wanted to "save" from growing up to preserve their innocence, then went off and fought in wars. And some died there, having not grown or grown up.

  • It seems odd that we cannot entrust an 18 year old with a beer, but we'll let them choose Heaven or Hell at the same age with the same maturity level while glorifying and many would argue teaching rebellious behavior like Holden Caulfield's during their high school years.

  • I tell my kids you'd better be ready to face God by the time you are 18, because society considers that to be more trivial than whether or not you drink...

  • by Rachel Stockton

  • Created on: July 27, 2008

  • Much of the controversy surrounding THE CATCHER IN THE RYE stems from its popularity as a staple on many high school reading lists (although Salinger considered it a book for adults). The language can be quite raw, but the "bawdiness" of the narrator's (Holden Caufield) vernacular helps to paint a picture of his character.

  • I'm always amazed at people who attend public venues to try and remove books from the shelves of school and public libraries. The fear factor among these people is through the roof. And, while the "vulgar" language in CATCHER isn't what makes the book such a literary classic, leaving it out would change its impact greatly.

Some "concerned" parents have gone so far as to "count" the occurrence of each individual "bad" word, an exercise that seems silly to the point of being comedic. For one thing, calling attention to all these people find offensive only makes the book that much more appealing to people; some will want to read it simply to find out "what the big deal is." Remember how Scout Finch's father , Atticus, played down Scout's newly acquired "colorful" vocabulary in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? He casually ignored her when at table she asked him to "pass the damn ham, please", taking the wind out of her sail entirely. Same principle applies in this instance.

  • Another controversial aspect of CATCHER is Holden's casual references to sex and prostitution. Show me an adolescent boy Holden's age, and I'll show you someone who is pretty well preoccupied with sex: the good, the bad, the indifferent. Holden is no different. He's just honest.

  • All great works of literature have "questionable" content; that's because human beings are "questionable", at their very core. The value of literature is its ability to create within us a desire to rise above the questionable, the base, to allow us to behave according to "the better angels of our nature." The Bible is one of the most violent, crudest examples of this there is. An entire book in the Old Testament revolves around sex, and the acts of cruelty the various nations imposed on each other would make most of us nauseated.

  • But, the value of these stories is not the "vileness" itself; again, it is the underlying message that causes us to bring to the fore of our lives that one attribute that conquers all that is crude, all that is cruel, all that is downright horrific, and that attribute is "Love."

  • Holden, for all of his quirks, is sensitive. Mouth like a sailor, he seems to enjoy the "shock value" his words seem to inspire in those around him. Yet, if one carefully reads, Holden's redemption is in learning to embrace his love for others, even for those who are the "phoniest", as well as love for himself. Could that same message come through without all of the graphic content?

  • Perhaps, but I doubt if it would do so nearly as poignantly.

  • by Rena Sherwood

  • Created on: July 05, 2008 Last Updated: October 03, 2011

  • Although mild by today's standards, "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951) by J.D. Salinger was the first major bestseller to use profanity and sexually flavored situations. It was also one of the first books to dare suggest that growing up in post World War II America wasn't all it was cracked up to be. After World War II, Americans children were expected to be grateful for everything about living in America.

Morality Lessons
  • Until this book's publication, American novels tended to be cloaked morality lessons, even with such classics as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925), which taught (among other things) that money can't buy happiness (although American family values teaches that it can).

  • In direct contrast, "The Catcher in the Rye" doesn't really teach much of anything, although there is a warning at the book's end that Holden's story could happen to you, too. It just IS. Although Holden Caulfield is a loser by many his own standards, many readers also identified with him. They felt that through Holden, Salinger was able to accurately portray the mindset, feelings and determination of a teenager at that time. This also spread the disturbing notion that there was something wrong in American society to produce a Holden Caulfield.

  • But no matter how you personally feel about the book, would you try to fire a teacher trying to teach it in your child's classroom? That's what happened to some high school teachers in the early 1960s. News about teachers loosing their jobs or school libraries banning the book from their shelves made the news and sparked debates about free speech.

  • Banned Books
  • "The Catcher In The Rye" was still being banned from school and public libraries as late as 1999, according to the American Library Association. It is the thirteenth most banned book of all time in America. The book was not taught in this writer's Christian high school when I went in the mid to late 1980s. It was still considered controversial enough in the 1980s to warrant being taken out of the curriculum.

  • The only reason I read it was because I knew it was the book Mark Chapman was discovered reading on the night he assassinated John Lennon. What could be in there to drive someone to kill a great man like Lennon? I found a hardback with a mostly intact dust jacket on the cover in my mother's personal library. I and read it and struggled with it for myself. I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. I still don't, although you could argue that a lot of anti-heroes in today's film, television and novels are a lot like angry and confused Holden Caulfield.

  • And, as time goes by, others won't see what all the fuss was about, either. "The Catcher in the Rye" was the first book of its kind which sparked a lot of imitations. And, as the first of its kind, the book took a lot of flak. It was a product of its time, which has in part, passed. Americans of all ages now know that American society still has a lot of growing up to do.

  • by Duane Kuehn

  • Created on: July 06, 2008

  • Published in 1951, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" walks the critique runway from Classic American Novel to Waste of Paper and Pen.

  • The modern controversy came to life as the United States became enamored with profiling criminals. Ironically, as Jody Foster plays a detective of profiling in "Silence of the Lambs". That both the infamous Mark David Chapman who took John Lennon's life and the almost as infamous John Hinckley, Jr. would be assassin of President Ronald Reagan both had copies of this rather odd novel.

The ties between criminal elements and "The Cather in the Rye" grew to include Lee Harvey Oswald, as the public was led down a rampant path to, once again, ban this literary work of a perplexing look inside the head of a confused teenager.

  • The first controversy is, of course, that which came to be immediately recognized in a time when life in the U.S. was supposed to be more a Beaver Cleaver or Nelson Family life. What was fashionable print at the time was good wholesome life in a good and wholesome framework. A book emphasizing the discontent, street vocabulary and sexual knowledge of the young was not permissible in post WWII storytelling.

  • What today is little in the minds of a "progressive" country was, in retrospect, a highly disliked book, which looked on the distasteful side of capitalism, sexual unfairness of boys and notches on bedposts as seen through the vocabulary of a modern teenager who happens to maintain innocence in his own surety of self.

  • The book itself, "The Catcher in the Rye" might best be subtitled "A cynical view of life as seen through the 8 year old eyes of a teenager". The confusion mounted by an innocent mind when it encounters the deviousness of accepted life.

  • The true controversy surrounding this book, "The Catcher in the Rye" lay in the critic's inability to categorize it. An American Classic say some, a "minor" Classic of American literature say others (maybe those who find straddling the fence a safe strategy in the critique department). Then there are those who claim it to be much ado about nothing.

  • I would suggest to the third that there would be no controversy over this book is it was an unimportant work, obviously not a fad of little duration.

  • Those who would claim this to be a "Classic" work are usually those who will point its relevance to other classic works in history.

  • The controversy now becomes whether this book is even worth reading. Many will see little reflection of it in today's world.