J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye

By Michael Thomas
Jd-Salingery.jpg (J.D. Salinger.)
I am a by no means a literary enthusiast, but most I have heard of the wildly popular novel Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Although the book is still studied in schools around the world, it was never part of my required reading as a student. When the book was brought up before do prior to this project, I always had the same reaction of disbelief from the person I told, so I finally decided to read the book.

(Old J.D. Salinger.)
A biography on American author J.D. Salinger is not an easy thing to do. After quickly skyrocketing to fame in the literature world by publishing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger isolated himself from the rest of the world. His sudden departure from “the scene” and his eventual refusal to publish only fueled the public’s curiosity. His iconic novel still sells 250,000 copies a year (Yardley).
Like his character Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, Salinger grew up a “poor rich kid” in Manhattan. He was born in 1919 and he, like Holden again, struggled academically in school; it’s obvious that Salinger himself is the inspiration for many of the characters in his writing. In fact, the only successful college experience he had was in a short story writing class at Columbia University (Hathcock, 2). Salinger remarried several time and had two children. He recently died January 27, 2010. According to Sherryl Connelly of NYDailyNews.com, Salinger “was said to stack unpublished manuscripts in the safe of his home in Cornish, N.H.” (Connelly). The speculation surrounding this treasure chest of literature is ongoing.

Catcher in the Rye:
This is the story of Holden Caulfield’s recent expulsion from his school Pencey Prep in Pennsylvania, his journey back home to New York, and his eventual journey into manhood. Told from Holden’s point of view, we are given a glimpse of a young boy’s struggle moving on to the next stage in his life.

Although there are several noticeable themes from the book, I think the main theme is that growing up, though difficult at times, is a necessary process we must all go through. This is actually referenced in the title of the book. When Holden visits one of his old teachers, Mr. Antolini, he is asked what he is going to do with his troubled life. He responds that he wants to stand in a field of rye with children playing and catch them if the fall over the edge. I think what the author is really trying to say, is that Holden wants to save them from “falling” into adulthood.

The symbol I noticed the most when reading the book was his frequent reference to the color yellow. He first mentions it on when he says “I’m one of these very yellow guys. I try not to show it, but I am” (Salinger, 48). Holden then gives us an example; someone steals his gloves, and after finding out who the crook is, rather than getting physical, he just argues with the guy. He says “but I’d feel I ought to sock the guy in his goddamn jaw or something – break his goddamn jaw. Only I wouldn’t have the guts to do it.” (Salinger, 48)He repeatedly accuses himself and other of having a “yellow” personality. I think yellow represents feebleness, shyness, or possible even nervousness. It is mentioned whenever the “yellow” person is in an intense situation. This symbol can be related to the theme, because Holden is very nervous and uncomfortable with the idea of becoming an adult.

One of the most influential characters of the book is Holden’s younger sister, Phoebe. You can see that Holden cares deeply for her and mentions her quite frequently in the second half of the book. Even though Phoebe is six years younger than her brother, she seems more mature and more connected to world. I think that Salinger uses Phoebe to pull Holden back to reality, and to try and show him that the world isn’t really full of “phonies”. Holden repeatedly complains about all the “phonies” in the world (in his eyes every adult is a fake).
The second most important character (not including Holden himself), is Holden’s teacher, Mr. Antolini. Holden makes a late night call to him, and sensing his distress, Mr. Antolini extends an invitation to his house. Holden gladly accepts and arrives to a warm reception of coffee and conversation. It is obvious that the two care for each other. He is young and I think the author uses this character to help Holden through his adolescence. I think Mr. Antolini is so helpful because he is young for a teacher and has gone through the same experiences more recently than the other teachers.

Catcher in the Rye was written during the ultra-conservative fifties. Therefore, it’s no wonder the book is one of the most “challenged” books. According to the American Library Association, the book was number nineteen on the list from 2000-2009 (down from number ten the previous decade) (Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009). Though the controversy surrounding the book and its legitimacy in the classroom is not as bad as it was when first published, the book can still raise the eyebrows of some. Probably the most offensive (to the general public) was the frequent use of “goddamn” and maybe the scene with the prostitute. But, just like adulthood is an inevitability of life, so is our exposure to things we may find inappropriate or offensive. Like in the book, it’s something we have to deal with, and how we choose to deal with bumps in the highway of life can have a lasting effect on how we deal with the world.

Works Cited
Connelly, Sherryl. “What's in Salinger's safe? Speculation grows over possible unpublished manuscripts”. Music & Arts. The New
York Daily News.com. Web. 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 April 2011.

Hathcock, Barrett. "J.D. Salinger." J.D. Salinger (2005): 1. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.

J.D. Salinger. Digital Image. Rest in Peace J.D. Salinger. The Cult. 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 April 2011.

Old J.D. Salinger. Digital Image. About Last Night. Arts Journal. 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 April 2011.

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1951.

Yardley, Jonathan. “J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracefully”. The Washington Post.com. 19 October 2004.
17 April 2011.

“Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.” American Library Association. n.d. Web. 15 April 2011.