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. Holden is an angry young man. Highly intelligent but mentally disturbed, he 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 is beaten 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 ten-year-old little 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" and protect them from falling off the cliff.
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 - while guzzling highballs. He compliments Holden's good looks. Later that night, Holden is awakened to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head in a "flitty" way. Holden describes this as "something perverty." Mr. Antolini's marriage may be a sham to conceal his true nature.
When Holden tells Phoebe that he plans to move out West, she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her, which upsets her greatly, 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" - being committed to 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 who promotes rebellion, smoking, drinking, lying, and promiscuity. In 1989, Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher in Boron, California, was fired after some disgruntled parents complained about her placement of The Catcher In The Rye on her assigned reading list. She was later reinstated.
Throughout his life, J.D. Salinger 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 were taken with the story. The film, which Salinger hated, turned out to be a critical and commercial failure. He vowed that no more of his works would be adapted. In 1961, Salinger denied film and stage director Elia Kazan permission to turn The Catcher In The Rye into a Broadway play.
Acclaimed filmmakers from Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg to Harvey Weinstein expressed great interest in directing a feature film adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye. Many famous actors, from Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson to Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio, have expressed great 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.
Ever since J.D. Salinger died in January of 2010 at the age of 91, speculation has run rampant that a feature film adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye will finally be made. Until then, everyone should read the novel, which is one of the all-time classic works of literature.
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 from J.D. Salinger's classic novel, The Catcher In The Rye - performed by actor Jason Alexander! Enjoy!