By Michael Lopergolo
It is perhaps one of the most controversial novels of the 20th century.
Littered with vulgar language including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, encouragement of rebellion, promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger is considered a modern American classic by many. But why has this 224 page novel about a whiney high school drop out captured the attention and imagination of so many readers?
Set in 1949, ‘Catcher’ follows protagonist Holden Caulfield as he spends a weekend in New York City after dropping out of high school.
During his time in NYC, he observes the city and points out what he sees as a “phony” which more often than not is anything authority or establishment based. It also ponders on such themes as teenage confusion, angst, alienation, language, rebellion, identity, belonging, and connection.
“I was in high school the first time I read it,” said Jenny Mae,
reflecting on her first read of ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ “ I remember
immediately getting sucked into it, there was something about the main character and his view on the world around him that made it so fascinating.” Not everyone has the same enthusiasm about the book as her. “A lot of the other kids didn’t really like it, but I think that’s because it was required reading so they were forced to read it and didn’t really get to enjoy it”, said Mae.
‘Catcher’ has become embedded into society and popular culture, being referenced and also the inspiration for films (‘Rebel Without A Cause’), television ( ‘Boy Meets World’), music (‘Who Wrote Holden Caulfield’ by Green Day), and theater (‘Six Degrees of Separation’). The novel is also well known for being associated with the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman, as well as the 1981 assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. It has been linked to these events because of the novel’s nihilistic antiestablishment themes.