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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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How can one begin an introductory paragraph arguing that "The Catcher in the Rye" should be taught?

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“Should” is a tricky word in any writing assignment, because it demands a judgment call on the part of the writer – what is the value of any literature?  Are we to be instructed morally? Socially? etc. by a piece of literature, or just be entertained?  And what does “taught” mean?

       That Holden Caulfield goes through what many teenagers do (hopefully not being hit on by a teacher) is obvious, and not insightful enough to constitute a thesis statement.  A subtler and therefore richer topic might be “What does the novel’s style demonstrate to us about narration, dialogue, exposition, foreshadowing, etc. etc. – the way a story gets told?”  The novel has survived because of four things – the magnetic character of Holden Caulfield, the symbolic strength of its title (and the passage inside the novel that explains it), the way the dialogue captures the moment (“This sentence I’m reading is terrific!”), and “inevitable surprise” of its ending.  The most valuable inquiry about “why” it should be “taught” is that it is accessible to student readers without being obvious, preachy, boring, or taxing – a rare combination that could not be said of, say, “War and Peace.”  Add to that the solitary life of Salinger, the long-life survival of the book, and its place in the conversation of modern Western culture, and it becomes a good choice for the classroom.

Therefore, I would start my introductory paragraph with "Setting aside the relevance of the mise-en-scene and characters to teen life, Catcher in the Rye deserves a place in the classroom because it is an excellent model to examine the narrative elements with which a story gets told."  Then I would cite examples of those elements from the book.

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