The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J. D. Salinger. First published in the United States in 1951, the novel has been a frequently challenged book in its home country for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst.
Originally published for adults, the novel has become a common part of high school and college curricula throughout the English-speaking world; it has also been translated into almost all of the world's major languages. Around 11,250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than sixty-five million. The novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion and defiance.
The novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the one-hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
D.B. Caulfield is Holden's older brother and lives in Hollywood. Holden professes to despise cinema for he believes it exemplifies his concept of "phoniness," but throughout the book he offers thoughtful and in-depth commentaries on films he has seen.
Allie Caulfield was Holden's younger brother, who died of leukemia when Holden was thirteen. Even though Allie was younger than Holden, Holden idolized Allie. Holden provides a detailed description of the fielder's mitt which Allie covered in poems. Holden even prays to his deceased brother for safety. The night of Allie's death, Holden smashed all the windows in the family garage with his bare fists, and permanently injured his right hand when he tried to smash the windows of the car.
Jane Gallagher is a girl with whom Holden spent a lot of time one summer, when their families stayed in neighboring summer houses in Maine. Holden likes to remember Jane as a sensitive, innocent girl. When she turns out to be his roommate's date, he is deeply bothered.
Ward Stradlater Holden's roommate at Pencey Prep. It is clear that Holden dislikes him, referring to him as a "moron" and a "bastard."
Robert Ackley Holden's dorm neighbor at Pency Prep. Ackley is a pimply, insecure boy with terrible dental hygiene. He is incredibly obnoxious and socially inept, which annoys and disgusts Holden.
Mr. Spencer was Holden's history teacher at Pencey Prep. In the beginning of the book he lectures Holden for his academic slack, a speech which Holden ignores.
Sally Hayes is a very attractive girl whom Holden has known and dated for a long time. Though Sally is well read, Holden claims that she is stupid and superficial, although it is difficult to tell whether this judgment is cynical or merely stems from Holden's ambivalence about being sexually attracted to her.
Phoebe Caulfield is Holden's younger sister. She is in the fourth grade at the time Holden leaves Pencey Prep. In some ways, she can be even more mature than him, even criticizing him for childishness, although she clearly idolizes Holden.
Sunny is the prostitute whom Holden hired through the hotel elevator man. She is one of a number of women with whom Holden clumsily attempts to connect. His sexual timorousness leads him to try to strike up a meaningful discussion with her, but she clearly shows no interest.
Carl Luce is student at Columbia who was Holden's student adviser. Luce is three years older than Holden and has a great deal of sexual experience. Though Holden tries to get him to talk about sex at their meeting, Carl refers him to the mental hospital at which Holden is telling his story.
James Castle A previous student at Elkton Hills, a school Holden went to, who had committed suicide by jumping out of a window. Mr. Antolini was the only individual to walk right up to James' corpse on the ground.
Mr. Antolini is Holden's former teacher whom Holden turns to for guidance and support. Mr. Antolini advises Holden that he is being immature for his enthusiasm to "die nobly for his cause" and that he should instead "live humbly" for it.
The novel has been interpreted as having only a negative answer to the social problems it expresses. In another type of critique, its philosophy has been negatively compared with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Phoebe's character plays an important role of influencing Holden. Her name, Phoebe, is from the Greek Phoibus, referring to the Greek sun and moon god. The comparison suggests that she serves as an oracle figure for Holden, to whom he can confide and seek advice. Phoebe also stands to be a catalytic character for Holden. Holden pictures himself as a catcher in the rye; he imagines himself standing on a cliff in a field of rye with children playing tag around him, and as they strayed too close to the edge, he would be the one to catch them, and save them. Phoebe and Holden seem to exchange roles as the catcher-fallen as well. Holden gives her the symbol of the catcher, his hunting hat, and becomes the fallen just as Phoebe assumes the role of the catcher.
However, in the final few pages of the novel, Holden realizes that he cannot take control of Phoebe's life nor prevent her from growing up. Inevitably, she will make mistakes as she matures, but he sees that he must allow her to grab the "gold ring" on the merry-go-round - a symbol of adolescent errors. Inevitably, this will include some of what he terms "phoniness." Therefore, Holden has indeed changed over the course of the novel, and has come to terms, to some extent, with his inability to be a "catcher" for Phoebe and all other children - he must allow them to grow up for themselves.
It has also been suggested that Holden is telling his story to a doctor in a hospital on account of it being a first person narrative and the fact that it is a circular story.
In 1960, a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, for assigning the novel in class. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the 13th most frequently challenged book from 1990–2000. It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, and came off the list in 2006.
The challenges generally begin with vulgar language, citing the novel's use of words like fuck and "goddam", with more general reasons including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, Holden's being a poor role model, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity. Often, the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself. Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher who faced objections after assigning the novel in her class, noted that the challengers "are being just like Holden ... They are trying to be catchers in the rye." A reverse effect has been that this incident caused people to put themselves on the waiting list to borrow the novel, when there were none before.
Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon, was carrying the book when he was arrested immediately after the murder and referred to it in his statement to police shortly thereafter. He also read a passage from the book at his sentencing. John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was also reported to have been obsessed with the book. Robert John Bardo, who murdered Rebecca Schaeffer, was carrying the book when he visited Schaeffer's apartment in Hollywood on July 18, 1989.
When The Catcher in the Rye was first released, many offers were made to adapt it for the screen; among them was Sam Goldwyn, producer of My Foolish Heart. In a letter written in the early fifties, Salinger spoke of mounting a play in which he would play the role of Holden Caulfield opposite Margaret O'Brien, and, if he couldn’t play the part himself, to “forget about it." Almost fifty years later, the writer Joyce Maynard definitively concluded, "The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger."
Salinger told Maynard in the seventies that Jerry Lewis "tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden," despite Lewis not having read the novel until he was in his thirties. Celebrities ranging from Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson to Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio have since made efforts to make a film adaptation. In an interview with Premiere magazine, John Cusack commented that his one regret about turning twenty-one was that he had become too old to play Holden Caulfield. Writer-director Billy Wilder recounted his abortive attempts to snare the novel's rights, saying,
Of course I read The Catcher in the Rye....Wonderful book. I loved it. I pursued it. I wanted to make a picture out of it. And then one day a young man came to the office of Leland Hayward, my agent, in New York, and said, 'Please tell Mr. Leland Hayward to lay off. He’s very, very insensitive.' And he walked out. That was the entire speech. I never saw him. That was J. D. Salinger and that was Catcher in the Rye.
In 1961, Salinger denied Elia Kazan permission to direct a stage adaptation of Catcher for Broadway. More recently, Salinger's agents received bids for the Catcher movie rights from Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg, neither of which was even passed on to Salinger for consideration.
In 2003, the BBC television program The Big Read featured The Catcher in the Rye, intercutting discussions of the novel with "a series of short films that featured an actor playing Salinger's adolescent antihero, Holden Caulfield." The show defended its unlicensed adaptation of the novel by claiming to be a "literary review," and no major charges were filed.