Essay: Catcher and the Rye
Profane, sexual, and vulgar content are often cited as reasons for banning a book. J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most controversial books of all time. It is heralded as a classic yet, according to the American Library Association, the Catcher in the Rye was the third most banned book from libraries and schools as recently as 2005. It earned the ranking of nineteenth most challenged books between the years 2000 and 2009. In the decade prior to that, it ranked tenth in the American Library Association Most Challenged Book list.1 The book has been banned by schools throughout America for its offensive language, profanity, sexual content, and immorality. Teaching this very popular work of literature, which is taught in classrooms everywhere, has cost some teachers their jobs. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of sixteen year-old Holden Caulfield. Holden is a troubled teenager who is expelled from Pencey Prep School after failing out of four other private schools. He heads to New York and struggles with the reality of having to grow up in a world he does not trust. He suffers a mental breakdown because he is afraid. Salinger uses diction to emphasize Holden’s fear and contempt for the grown-up world. The profanity, sexual connotations, and colloquial expressions which Salinger employs to make his main character believable are ammunition for censors wanting to ban this classic.
Profanity is rampant throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger uses profanity to show that Holden Caufield is a teenage rebel who is angry at the world. This tone is set at the beginning of the book when Holden discusses his poor term paper with his teacher, Mr. Spencer. “He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud.” (p.15 Salinger) In the discussion with Mr. Spencer, we learn about Holden’s dislike of school and his rebellion from its rules. The terms “goddam”, “damn" and “God’s sake” are used throughout the book to express anger. “Almost every damn school in the world gets out earlier for Christmas vacation than schools I go to... It was supposed to be something holy, for God’s sake, when he sat down at the piano.” (p.93 Salinger) This time Holden is ranting about his dislike of the general population and the things they find entertaining such as scenes in movies or self-important piano players. Both things that make people quite happy but Holden finds fault with. This shows his rebellious nature towards societal norms. In chapter twenty, the young rebel is drinking. “Boy, I sat at that goddam bar till around one o’clock or so, getting drunk as a bastard.” In this teenage boy who curses constantly and drinks under the legal age, Salinger has created a character that many would find objectionable - one who attracts censorship. The use of profanity in his character’s development makes the book a prime target for those who look for the bad in books and fear the potential negative influences upon youth.
Sexual connotations throughout the Catcher in the Rye, are used by Salinger to show emotion and emphasize Holden’s dislikes. “…bastard is a strong word, reserved for things and people Holden particularly dislikes, especially phonies. Sonuvabitch has an even stronger meaning to Holden; he uses it only in his deepest anger.” (p 86 Costello) Near the start of the novel, Salinger shows Holden’s dislike of showy, rich donors. “I can just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs.” (p. 20 Salinger) Mr. Ossenburger, a rich funeral parlor owner who donated a lot of money to Pencey Prep, preached to the football team about God and Jesus. This holier-than-thou attitude irritated Holden and the diction makes this clear. In chapter fourteen, Holden is afraid of