This book was actually banned in America after it’s first publication in 1951. The reason to this was that John Lennon’s assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book earlier in the morning of the day that he murdered Lennon. This book doesn’t contain anything that could lead Chapman to act the way he did. But because the police found this book in Chapman’s possession, media speculated about the possible connection. All this publicity made The Catcher in the Rye very popular.
The entire novel is a fictional story written in the first person view of the Holden Caulfield, a 17-year-old teenager living in the 50’s. He flunks out of Pencey Preparatory Academy and three days before the end of the term he decides to go to New York. Just to be alone for a few days before going home to his parents. In New York he experiences the “phony” adult world. And at the same time he is dealing with the death of his innocent younger brother, Allie, who he loved dearly. On his mind he’s also got the fact that he feels that he lies too much (he can’t help it though), and his troubles with the opposite sex. He’s had some troubling sexual experiences and he’s never “in the mood” to contact girls. Through this character Salinger shows us many of the complex problems with adolescence as Holden enters adulthood. Holden’s monologue and thoughts make up most of the story, the rest is dialogue.
Now let us look at the meaning of the title. It has an effect on the book’s theme and it makes us look deeper into Holden’s character.
While looking at the city around him, Holden sees a kid walking in the street “singing and humming.” As Holden gets closer he can hear that the child is singing that song “If a body catch a body coming through the rye” in a very pretty voice, making Holden feel “not so depressed.”
So far, the title’s words are just a catchy song, but because of the repeating of them, they needed a closer look. Holden’s innocent, 10-year-old sister Phoebe wants to know what he wants to be when he gets older. He says,
“Anyway, I kept picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if the start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be “The Catcher in the Rye” and all. I know it’s crazy, but it’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” (page 173)
By saying this, Holden tells us about his deepest desire, and Salinger exposes the books theme. Holden wants to protect childhood innocence, saving kids from having to live in the “crazy” and “phony”, adult world. The idea that pure children lose their innocence as they grow old is explored through the whole text. Holden reacts to the words “Fuck you” written on school walls. And the school walls are supposed to protect kids away from society. Also, when Holden gives his red hunting cap to Phoebe to wear, the hat was acting like a shield, a symbol of protection.
Earlier in the story Holden remembers a girlfriend he once had, Jane Gallagher. When he hears that his sexually experienced roommate has a date with Jane, Holden punches him starting a fight to protect Jane’s innocence.
Holden Caulfield is “The Catcher in the Rye”. Here lies the paradox, because Holden himself is falling out of innocence and needs a Catcher in the Rye himself. When combining the books theme and Holden’s deepest personality Salinger has come up with a very fascinating story. I will truly recommend it.