The Catcher in the Rye Analysis

The Catcher in the Rye (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was an immediate best-seller and a Book- of-the-Month-Club selection. The controversy surrounding it began almost simultaneously with its publication. The complaints against this book have been steady throughout the years, beginning in 1954 in California’s Los Angeles and Marin counties. Surveys taken in the early 1960’s indicated that the book was one of the most often banned selections, as well as one of the most frequently taught books in schools. Two decades later its rankings in both categories remained essentially unchanged. The book has been a target of censorship by critics who have found its central character, Holden Caulfield, a poor “role model” who uses foul language, among other things. Those who defend the book, however, maintain that its multidimensional qualities justify teaching it in literature courses at all educational levels.

The Storyline

As the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, Caulfield describes the two days that he spends roaming New York City because his “nerves were shot.” He uses this trip as a temporary escape before his parents learn that he has been expelled from yet another prep school. During this adventure, Caulfield makes both an actual and symbolic journey. In New York, he not only finds diversion from the problems he is having at school, but he immerses himself in the place that he finds most confusing—the adult world. As he wanders the city, he visits bars, encounters a prostitute, calls an old girlfriend, helps several nuns, and sneaks home for a brief visit with his kid sister, Phoebe, whom he dearly loves.

Caulfield discloses both the concrete details of his excursion to New York and the intimate details of his inner self. As an antihero, Caulfield finds it difficult to function in a system where nothing seems to be done for its own sake. Instead he sees people behaving primarily to satisfy others’ expectations. Although he strives for a sense of normalcy, he knows that he will never attain it. He remains a tortured adolescent; unable to understand life, he dismisses all adults as “phonies” and regards life as an unevenly matched game.

Procensorship Arguments

Caulfield’s poor attitude about life is only a minor point for those who have tried to censor this book. A 1991-1992 study by the People for the American Way found that this novel was among those most likely to be censored on the grounds that it is “anti- Christian,” or opposed to a censor’s religious convictions. Throughout the United States, parents have objected to the teaching of the book to their children in the public classroom because of its sexual content, references to drinking, rebellion, profanity, vulgarity, and prostitution. Other charges leveled against teaching the book have included its portrayal of an allegedly immoral figure who is a poor role model for youths, its negative depictions of adults, and its lack of literary value. Some who have fought to censor this novel have taken a middle ground, claiming that the book should not be read by high- school-age students because it contains primarily adult themes. In 1991, for example, an organization called Concerned Citizens of Florida wanted to remove the book from a high school library, charging that its content was “immoral” and had “no literary merit.”

The language that Caulfield uses to tell his story is another broad basis of contention for censors. Some parents who have formally complained about the teaching of the book have counted hundreds of “vulgarities,” such as “damn,” “Chrissakes,” “horny,” “hell,” “crap,” and “bastard.”

Anticensorship Arguments

Those who have taught The Catcher in the Rye, or have advocated teaching the book, have generally emphasized its literary value and have objected to the idea of censorship in general. Supporters have argued that if the book were removed from classrooms or libraries because of the objections of a few parents, all children would be harmed by such censorship. Those who have taught the book point out that it is much more than the tale of a misfit teenager. In using the antihero device, Salinger created a character with whom young readers can easily identify. However, this is exactly what has alarmed those who have wished to censor the book. Supporters of the book argue that those who call Caulfield a poor role model forget that he does want to become a hero to children. Indeed, the title of the book derives from a dream in which he stands in a rye field next to a cliff. As children run toward him, he catches them before they fall over the edge of the cliff. Symbolically, Caulfield is saving these children from becoming adults. He does not want himself or any children to fall into the adult world. For those who teach the novel, this is why they teach it—its thought-provoking theme of passing from a child’s to an adult’s world without hope of turning back. For those against it, this represents just another negative characterization of adults, and that when coupled with the foul language and suggestive scenes also in the novel, it is inappropriate material to be taught in schools.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold, ed. Holden Caulfield. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Grunwald, Henry Anatole, ed. Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait. New York: Har-per & Row, 1962. Contains two important articles on The Catcher in the Rye. One deals with Holden Caulfield as an heir of Huck Finn; the other is a study of the novel’s language.

Laser, Marvin, and Norman Fruman, eds. Studies in J. D. Salinger: Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of “The Catcher in the Rye” and Other Fiction. New York: Odyssey Press, 1963. Includes an intriguing essay by a German, Hans Bungert, another by a Russian writer, and one of the best structural interpretations of the novel, by Carl F. Strauch.

Marsden, Malcolm M., ed. If You Really Want to Know: A “Catcher” Casebook. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1963. Contains reviews of the original publication of the novel. Examines Holden from opposing points of view, as “saint or psychotic.”

Pinsker, Sanford. “The Catcher in the Rye”: Innocence Under Pressure. Boston: Twayne, 1993. A sustained study of the novel. Contains a helpful section on the body of critical literature on the novel.

Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Salzman, Jack, ed. New Essays on “The Catcher in the Rye.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Provides an unusual sociological reading of the novel as well as an essay that firmly places the novel in American literary history.

Steinle, Pamela Hunt. “The Catcher in the Rye” Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character. A study of the impact of the novel on its release during a nervous period in American social history.

The Catcher in the Rye Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. Primary setting for most of Salinger’s writings. Salinger knew the city well; while he grants New York the “big-city” aura for which it is famous, he also paints a picture of the city’s darker side. Instead of having Holden attend fancy cocktail parties, Salinger has him staying at the seedy Edmont Hotel and sleeping in Grand Central Station. According to Salinger, New York is a place that brings out the worst in people.

*Upper East Side

*Upper East Side. Manhattan neighborhood in which Holden’s family lives. While his parents are away, he visits with his sister Phoebe in the family apartment. For Holden, Phoebe is the only person who is not a phony, and Salinger paints a portrait of her as pure innocence. Everything in her room is neat and orderly, including her schoolbooks. The whole apartment suggests normalcy and structure, the two things Holden needs more than anything else.

Edmont Hotel

Edmont Hotel. Rundown hotel in which Holden stays. The building represents the uglier side of New York City, and its ugliness is reinforced in a scene involving a prostitute named Sunny and one in which Holden makes unsuccessful sexual advances toward two women at a nightclub.

*Rockefeller Center

*Rockefeller Center. New York City landmark with a public ice skating rink to which Holden takes Sally Hayes on a date. While ice-skating should be a happy endeavor, Holden cannot get over the feeling that there are phonies all around them. Holden’s feelings are so overwhelming that they begin to spill over into his relationships with others, including Sally.

Pencey Prep

Pencey Prep. Residential military school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania, that Holden attends. Salinger based the school on Valley Forge Military Academy, his old military school in Pennsylvania. Although these students are in military school, Salinger shows them to be like other children; for example, Ackley’s room is as much a mess as Ackley himself. Nevertheless, Holden is impelled to rebel against the school’s attempts at military discipline.

Taxicabs

Taxicabs. On his way to the Edmont Hotel, Holden asks the cabdriver what happens to the ducks in the wintertime. On his way to Ernie’s nightclub, he asks another cabdriver the same question. This suggests that, like the ducks, Holden feels the urge to leave in the wintertime but does not know where to go for safety and shelter.

*Museum of Natural History

*Museum of Natural History. New York science museum that Holden visits while searching for Phoebe. There he experiences one of the few places in which he feels truly happy. What he finds there are walls covered with graffiti; no matter how desperately he wishes to hold on to the innocence of childhood, the sight of the graffiti reminds him that he cannot.

Sutton Place

Sutton Place. Home of Mr. Antolini, a former teacher, that Holden tries to crash after leaving his parent’s apartment. Even here he sees the dark side of life, as he interprets Antolini’s behavior as a sexual advance. Even here in the home of a trusted friend, he finds no escape from the predators of the world. He flees to Grand Central Station, convinced that he is the only person who understands what the world is really like.

Wicker Bar

Wicker Bar. Posh setting in which Holden meets one of his former schoolmates, Carl Luce, to discuss Eastern philosophy. Holden tries to behave like one of the phonies he despises and eventually finds himself drinking alone, disgusted with himself for his posturing. The bar and the people in it are posh and well-to-do, something Holden is not, and his attempt to fit in fails.

*Central Park

*Central Park. Large public park in central Manhattan in which Holden wanders around, looking for Phoebe, before meeting Luce. The children playing happily at the park are, for Holden, a picture of innocence.

*California

*California. The novel is framed by a narrative that begins and ends with Holden speaking to a psychiatrist somewhere in California. Before leaving New York, Holden says good-bye to his sister, telling her that he plans to head westward.

The Catcher in the Rye Historical Context

Typical 1950s office in New York City Published by Gale Cengage

Postwar Prosperity
The events in The Catcher in the Rye take place in 1946, only a year after the end of World...

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The Catcher in the Rye Setting

The plot of this novel, set soon after the end of World War II, is relatively spare. Holden Caulfield has been expelled from a private prep...

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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Style

Narrator
In essence, we have three narrators of the events that take place in this book. The first is the author

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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Techniques

The popularity of The Catcher in the Rye largely depends upon its plot and its language. It employs that most archetypal of all plots: the...

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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Qualities

If The Catcher in the Rye merely detailed the awkwardness of a young adult growing up, it would still be valuable. But Holden's...

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The Catcher in the Rye Ideas for Group Discussions

1. Holden constantly uses the word "phony" to describe people, events, and popular culture such as movies. What does he mean by the word, and...

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The Catcher in the Rye Compare and Contrast

  • 1950s: Religion is an integral part of many classrooms. Bible readings and regular lessons about religious topics...

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The Catcher in the Rye Topics for Discussion

1. Holden constantly uses the word "phony" to describe people, events, and popular culture such as movies. What does he mean by this word and...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

The Catcher in the Rye Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Compare and contrast Holden and Huckleberry Finn. How does their adolescent inexperience permit their creators, Salinger and Mark Twain,...

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The Catcher in the Rye Topics for Further Study

  • Investigate current research on adolescent psychology. According to current theory, argue whether Holden Caulfield is a typical troubled...

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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Precedents

Because The Catcher in the Rye deals with those perennial themes of American fiction, the struggle of the individual with society and the...

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The Catcher in the Rye Related Titles / Adaptations

Salinger's other important books, all of which were published after The Catcher in the Rye, deal with a more extensive family than...

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The Catcher in the Rye What Do I Read Next?

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The Catcher in the Rye For Further Reference

Alsen, Eberhard. Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel. Troy, NY: Whitson Publishing, 1983. A recent, illuminating analysis of...

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The Catcher in the Rye Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bloom, Harold, ed. Holden Caulfield. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.

Bryan,...

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The Catcher in the Rye Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Holden Caulfield. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Grunwald, Henry Anatole, ed. Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait. New York: Har-per & Row, 1962. Contains two important articles on The Catcher in the Rye. One deals with Holden Caulfield as an heir of Huck Finn; the other is a study of the novel’s language.

Laser, Marvin, and Norman Fruman, eds. Studies in J. D. Salinger: Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of “The Catcher in the Rye” and Other Fiction. New York: Odyssey Press, 1963. Includes an intriguing essay by a German, Hans Bungert, another by a Russian writer, and one of the best structural interpretations of the novel, by Carl F. Strauch.

Marsden, Malcolm M., ed. If You Really Want to Know: A “Catcher” Casebook. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1963. Contains reviews of the original publication of the novel. Examines Holden from opposing points of view, as “saint or psychotic.”

Pinsker, Sanford. “The Catcher in the Rye”: Innocence Under Pressure. Boston: Twayne, 1993. A sustained study of the novel. Contains a helpful section on the body of critical literature on the novel.

Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Salzman, Jack, ed. New Essays on “The Catcher in the Rye.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Provides an unusual sociological reading of the novel as well as an essay that firmly places the novel in American literary history.

Steinle, Pamela Hunt. “The Catcher in the Rye” Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character. A study of the impact of the novel on its release during a nervous period in American social history.