The Catcher in the Rye is one of the books that people are often forced to read when they are in a high school English class. This experience may, or may not, have colored people’s opinions of the book.
This is the type of book that has what I think of as an “expiration date”. Read this book when you are between the ages of 13 and 17 (and still a student living at home with parents) and you will find Holden Caufield to be interesting, funny, and possibly even a deep thinker.
Read this book later on in life, say, when you are done with college, and you will instead find Holden to be pretentious, obnoxious, and a loser. It makes you wonder why your younger self thought Holden Caulfield was kind of cool.
I have read this book twice, once as a high school student, and just recently as a 30-something non-student. Sadly, even though I liked Holden the first time around, I found myself just wanting to smack him upside the head as I read the book now. So, do yourself a favor, and read this book while you are still within the ages (or life circumstances) of its peak audience.
Holden is about sixteen-years-old, and goes to a prep school. Well, he went to a prep school. He has managed to get himself kicked out of this school, and this is not the first time he’s been expelled.
Instead of waiting the three days he has left before Christmas break, Holden decides to leave early. He goes on a three day adventure. He thinks about life in general: the things that really bother him about people, the things he likes, the many things he doesn’t understand. Holden is trying to figure out what it is that he wants to be doing with his life, while hiding out from his parents, who are eventually going to realize that he’s been kicked out of yet another school.
The book takes place somewhere in the 1950s, I think. Some things remain the same for teens today, like Holden agonizing about calling a girl he likes on the phone, or Holden trying to sort out all his thoughts about sex, or his hatred of “phony” people. Holden’s general feeling that school is a joke and that most adults don’t have any idea what they are talking about is something all teens feel at one time or another.
The things that are different are huge. For example, Holden is only sixteen-years-old. But, because of the time period the book takes place in, he can buy his own cigarettes, walk into bars and nightclubs, order alcoholic drinks, even get a hotel room all on his own with hardly anyone even asking for I.D.
He is also in a world where cell phones have not yet been invented. So he has to use public phones to call girls, and has no way of knowing who will answer the phone. It could be the girl he is trying to call, or her parents, or whoever. Makes things that much more stressful.
The Catcher in the Rye is among the books that people try to ban. As an example, in 1989, the school board of Baron High School (in Barron, California) decided to ban the book. The Los Angeles Times reported that about 20 parents complained about the book, and this resulted in the school board voting 4-1 remove The Catcher in the Rye from the 70 book reading list for high school students.
The group that wanted to ban the book objected to it because of the book’s profanity. Some claimed the book was “blasphemous and promoted anti-family values”.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the profanity and sexual references in the book “drew scandalized reactions in the 1950s but the criticism faded as literature and movies of the 1960s and 1970s made it seem tame in comparison.”
The result of this attempted ban of a book backfired for the group who enjoys censorship. The school board basically removed The Catcher in the Rye from being taught in the classroom. It did not, however, ban copies of the book from the school or the school’s library. As a result, high school students who heard about the ban got curious about The Catcher in the Rye and were easily able to check the book out from the school’s library.