Published on November 30th, 2012 | by Staff 12-130
Why We Teach Catcher
Holden’s story is one of the most widely taught books in the United States, despite its more risque themes. Why?
Sitting in a bar, 17-year-old Holden Caulfield waits for a college friend. He manages to swindle a drink out of the bartender without a fake ID in hand. Is this what parents want their children to emulate? Chances are that Holden Caulfield isn’t the role model of American literature, as scenes like this compose the backbone of “The Catcher in the Rye,” a classic book of teenage angst which deals with drinking, smoking, prostitutes and contemplations of suicide. In the past this has caused controversy over whether its content should be taught to students. From 1961 to 1982, “The Catcher in the Rye” was the most censored book in high schools and libraries across the United States.
With current TV shows like “Gossip Girl” and “Skins” raising the bar for what is acceptable in youth entertainment and modern novels that also capture teen angst, one begs the question: does “The Catcher in the Rye” still hold the same effect today as it did 60 years ago?
According to English teacher Gilda de la Cruz, the book was banned in the past solely due to its controversial topics.
“In previous time periods Holden was looked at as an irreverent and disrespectful kid,” de la Cruz said. “One of the controversial parts was when he talked about suicide; in the book Holden said that he felt like he wanted to jump out of a building, so that would have made adults nervous. They wouldn’t have wanted their kids to read that.”
According to English Department Chair Jennifer Pust, though teachers can choose which book to teach, most cover “The Catcher in the Rye” because of it being a classic coming of age story and the fact that its literary devices are valuable for students to learn.
The unique style and voice of “The Catcher in the Rye” are what keep English teacher Chon Lee teaching it today.
“J.D. Salinger has such a unique writing style,” Lee said. “The way Holden Caulfield talks in a stream of consciousness make it so that whether it’s 1950 or 2012 his voice speaks to multiple generations.”
De la Cruz said she uses the book to teach her students techniques like motif and symbolism along with the novel’s overall message.
“This book allows students to connect Holden’s journey with their own or with journeys from other texts,” de la Cruz said. “When you read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ you can talk about the anti-hero and about living up to expectations.”
Lee, who read the book when he was in 9th grade, said the basic teen angst captured in “The Catcher in the Rye” is highly relatable.
English teacher Samantha Schmidt agrees with Lee.
“Even if our own situations are not as severe as Holden’s, we still go through pressures that are put on us as we enter the adult world,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said that the one of a kind and utterly tender way Salinger ends the book interested her when she first read it as a teenager because it was a structural and stylistic technique she had never seen before in a novel.
“People say Holden is too whiny so people don’t relate to that, but I think Holden does make observations about people feeling disconnected, people being phony or fakes,” Schmidt said. “More than ever with social networking there is a kind of superficial layer, especially with teens.”
According to de la Cruz her students generally enjoy the book. She said that “The Catcher in the Rye” has paved the way for other flawed protagonists like Holden to have a voice in literature today.
Junior Eleanor Reynolds, who enjoyed the book when she read it last year in English said that the lessons she learned from the novel pertain to the ups and downs of adolescence.
“It’s taught because teenagers really need to learn about society’s downsides. I think kids today are starting to become extremely materialistic, and they’re wrapped up in what everyone thinks of them all the time,” Reynolds said. “The book shows us that we should try to value everything that really matters and not think too much about how society perceives us.”
Junior Francesca Crowley, like Reynolds, enjoyed the book and found it interesting because of Holden’s flawed nature. Crowley said the book taught her the importance of individuality.
Schmidt and Lee will continue to teach it to students like Reynolds and Crowley because they know the message that pours out of the pages of Salinger’s work are making a difference.
“What we learn from Holden is that we can either cower and separate ourselves, or we can seek help in order to get over the struggle,” Schmidt said.