Why Catcher in the Rye?

Erin O’Connor, now teaching in a private boarding school, responds to Jonathan Yardley’s attack on one of the most assigned books in high school English classes: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Yardley finds the book mawkish and the hero narcissistic:

. . . “The Catcher in the Rye” can be fobbed off on kids as a book about themselves. It is required reading as therapy, a way to encourage young people to bathe in the warm, soothing waters of resentment (all grown-ups are phonies) and self-pity without having to think a lucid thought. Like that other (albeit marginally better) novel about lachrymose preppies, John Knowles’s “A Separate Peace” (1960), “The Catcher in the Rye” touches adolescents’ emotional buttons without putting their minds to work. It’s easy for them, which makes it easy for teacher.

Arguably, J.D. Salinger invented modern adolescence by establishing “whining rebellion as essential to adolescence,” Yardley writes.

All literature is manipulative, responds BookSlut, who thinks Catcher is one of the great American books.

I found Holden Caulfield both affecting and irritating when I read the book, which I think was assigned for English class. He was a whiner, but I felt sorry for him.

About Joanne


  1. I didn’t feel sorry for him. I thought him a pain in the ass.

    I hated all the adolescent lit they gave us in high school. I much preferred the “adult” stuff, like the Homeric epics. A lot more juicy stuff.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Isn’t this the same as high school english teachers assigning Lord of the Flies because they think it will appeal to boys. After looking at what the average high schooler is assigned to read these day, is it any wonder that very few of them are readers.

  3. I taught SAT prep this summer and was giving examples of literature the students could cite in the new essay. Trying to find a book that I figured most of them had read, I mentioned “Catcher in the Rye” — and nearly the entire class erupted into dual shouts of, “I hated that book!” and “I loved that book!” It appeared no one was indifferent, they truly thought either the book was great or it was garbage.

  4. Bluemount says:

    Punk Rock Schoolteachers

    Visiting a school this week, I watched a punk rock schoolteacher for a little while. Middle grades social studies, and she was teaching her heart out, working with a bunch of kids who were only midlly engaged. Not a terribly effective lesson, but she was working very hard and clearly pulling out all the stops. The walls of the classroom–thankfully free of “I can” statements and word walls–has some of the necessary student work, but also posters of Sleater Kinney and Calexico and a few other rock and roll bands. Not for her students, mind you, but for herself–they were touchstones to her life, a personal statement in a professional world that in all likelyhood was difficult and trying.

    Since the most important thing for new teachers to do is to have a firm grasp on their identity, this makes perfect sense, despite students who undoubtedly think rather odd that strange musicians line the walls of the classroom.

    Since when is personal identity the most important thing for a new teacher can have? This effort to stimulate students is creating a dull thud in the classroom, and the social cry for functioning adults is lost in a mantra of pathetic indifference. No posters of “I can” just “You Can’t Escape a Commercial”, even if you don’t like the band.
    No one is a cardboard poster that boasts the benefits of a behavior. Behavior does errupt when people confront life’s challenges. Kid’s do not experience their own self-expression, their own lives, or even the realities that confront the world if they aren’t taught to focus on the impact of reality, not personal identity. It’s a choice to teach either whether it’s a classic or a commercial.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    “Catcher” is an argument against censorship. Had it not been censored, Salinger would have become something useful like a soda jerk. Of course, I am not a whinocrat, so what do I know?

  6. I never read Catcher, but if it’s worse than A Separate Peace, that’s saying something.