David J. Burrows
Literary passions were not easily formed among America's youth in the 1950's. But during those years many students in high schools and colleges discovered, through J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, that "literature" need not mean the, to them, dull poetry and fiction of their textbooks. After the novel's appearance in 1951, its fame began to spread by word-of-mouth, until something of an underground "Catcher cult" existed throughout the country. The speech mannerisms of Holden Caulfield, the book's protagonist and narrator, were carefully imitated, and a generation of young Americans perceived through Holden the extent to which the world was divided between the "phonies" and the "nice" people, the former comprising the vast majority of the population. Then, in the late 1950's, young college and high school teachers, themselves having been deeply affected by the book six or eight years earlier, introduced it formally into the classroom, and thus within a decade of its publication it reached the stature of an American "classic."
Many of the attempts to explain the book's appeal have been sociological in nature. Critics have concentrated on the disparity between the society which Holden realizes he must conform to and his own adolescent vision of innocence which, he is coming to realize, is for him no longer an effective means of coping with that society. He fears that his life will become a boring routine of "working in some office, making a lot of dough ... reading newspapers, and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies...." 1 Or, as a teacher of his warns, it may be that at age thirty, Holden will "end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer" (pp. 242-243).
Such a critical emphasis, however, does not sufficiently explain the deep and lasting effect the book has had on so many readers. Certainly every reader, no matter how young, has at least begun to make his own compromise with the adult society he is entering, and still may identify his own plight very strongly with____________________