This Day In Writing History
On July 16th, 1951, writer J.D. Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher In The Rye, was published. It would prove to be not only one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, but also one of the most controversial and challenged novels of all time.
Salinger's poignant coming-of-age story opens with teenage student Holden Caulfield being expelled from Pencey Prep, his boarding school in Pennsylvania. An angry young man, Holden believes that his fellow students and his teachers are all a bunch of phonies. After an altercation with his roommate, Holden packs up and leaves school in the middle of the night.
He takes a train back to New York City, but doesn't want to go home to his parents, so he checks into the shabby Edmont Hotel instead. There, he dances with some tourist girls, has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute, and gets assaulted by her pimp when he refuses to pay her more than the agreed upon amount.
Holden spends the next two days wandering around the city, drunk and lonely. He sneaks into his parents' apartment while they're out so he can visit his precocious younger sister Phoebe - the only family member that he can communicate with. He shares with her a fantasy (based on a misinterpretation of Robert Burns' Comin' Through The Rye) where he watches over children playing in a rye field near the edge of a cliff. He must make sure that they don't wander too close to the edge; he must become a "catcher in the rye."
After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden visits his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who offers him a place to sleep and gives him a speech about life - during which he guzzles highballs. Later that night, Holden is awakened to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a "flitty" way. Whether or not this is a sexual advance is up for speculation and ultimately left to the reader to decide.
When Holden tells his sister Phoebe that he plans to move out West, she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her and she becomes upset, so he tells her that he won't move. The book ends with Holden taking Phoebe to the Central Park Zoo. He watches with melancholy joy while she rides the carousel. He alludes to possible future events, including "getting sick" and living in a mental hospital, and attending another school in September.
That's just a bare outline of The Catcher In The Rye. You must read it for yourself. It truly is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. It's also one of the most controversial. The American Library Association (ALA) has listed it as the 13th most challenged book from 1990-2000 and one of the ten most challenged books of 2005. The complaints range from profanity - including words such as goddamn and fuck - to blasphemy.
Opponents of the book have also complained about the undermining of family values, Holden Caulfield being a poor role model, (encouraging rebellion) and the promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity. A high school teacher, Shelley Keller-Gage, was fired after some parents complained about her placement of The Catcher In The Rye on her assigned reading list. She was later reinstated.
So far, J.D. Salinger has rebuffed attempts at adapting his classic novel for the stage and screen. When his short story Uncle Wiggily In Connecticut was adapted as a film called My Foolish Heart, great liberties had been taken with Salinger's plot. The film, which he hated, was panned by critics, and he vowed that no more of his works would be adapted. In 1961, Salinger denied Elia Kazan permission to turn The Catcher In The Rye into a Broadway play.
Since the novel's publication, directors from Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg to Harvey Weinstein have expressed interest in directing a film version of The Catcher In The Rye. Many name actors, from Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson to Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio have expressed interest in playing Holden Caulfield. John Cusack once said that after he turned 21, he regretted that he had become too old to play Holden.
There is a rumor that there may finally be a film version coming soon. Until then, everyone should read The Catcher In The Rye.
Quote Of The Day
“An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.” - J.D. Salinger
Today's video features a reading of the first chapter of The Catcher In The Rye. Enjoy!