The Catcher in the Rye

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First edition dust jacket
Great and terrible
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Writer's block

The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by American author J.D. Salinger.[1] It features a disconnected protagonist and narrator named Holden Caulfield who has become a prominent symbol of adolescent rebellion and anomie. Caulfield, an intelligent boy, expresses a general disgust at the "phoniness" of the world, sullenly lashing out as a cover for his underlying vulnerability. One of the central themes of the book is how disaffection can be a way to protect innocence.

The book's title comes from Robert Burns' poem, Comin' thro the Rye: "Gin a body meet a body, comin thro' the rye,/ Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry". Burns' poem is about inner conflict in sex and relationships and whether they should maintain their innocence. In the book itself, it related to a fantasy of Caulfield's where he imagines himself as a guardian of children, a hero who stands in a field of rye by a cliff and safely catches them before they can tumble off in their play. Sometimes Caulfield thinks of his dead younger brother, Allie, and wishes he could have been there to catch him.

While the book has become a classic and extremely popular among youth[2] for its pitch-perfect expression of teenage angst, it has also had a strange association with others who perceive themselves as outsiders. John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, and the attempted assassin of President Ronald Reagan, John Hinkley Jr., both shared a particular connection with the book. This has led to some to formulate conspiracy theories that the book was a "trigger" - or even that it caused them to become assassins.[3] In the Mel Gibson movie Conspiracy Theory, this is illustrated and mocked by the central character's obsessive accumulation of copies of Catcher.

Needless to say, there is no evidence of this. Because the government has destroyed it. Tell the people. Tell the world. If you doubt this conspiracy, consider this sinister fact: The Catcher in the Rye is widely believed to be the source of the pernicious fashion of wearing baseball caps backwards.[4]

Between 1961 and 1982 The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored title in US high schools and libraries.[5]


  2. American Adolescent, Adam Golub, Forbes 30 January 2010
  4. "I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back—very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way."