Online Lifestyle Editor, Emily Pirie, takes a look at how J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ has affected our society on his 100th anniversary.
Anxiety. We have all felt it; it manages to shake our senses into a frenzy and disorientate us from rationality. As they experience the jolt of puberty, it is particularly teenagers that feel this sense of angst. From the 1950s to the present day, thousands of teenagers have looked towards JD Salinger’s protagonist Holden Caulfield in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a figure that represents these feelings of angst and alienation within society.
This year marks Salinger’s hundredth birthday. One hundred years on and his works are still keeping readers up at night as they lie gripped by his words. In particular, it is Salinger’s most famous novel, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ which still resonates with readers of the twenty-first century and has both positive and negative impacts.
“If you really want to know about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like”.(Holden in The Catcher In The Rye)
This is the celebrated opening line that captivated readers and instantly gravitated them towards the sixteen year old alienated Holden. Ironically it was the release and success of the novel that appeared to make Salinger’s life more ‘lousy’. Upon the release of the text, the enigmatic Salinger quickly deserted the bright lights of New York in favour for the seclusion of New Hampshire. The once sociable figure soon became a hermit, rapidly decreasing his creative outpour of publications.
The reception of the novel was not only ‘lousy’ for Salinger but also for many innocent victims of crime. In late 1980 Mark David Chapman stuck a copy of ‘The Catcher of the Rye’ in his pocket as he stalked and then murdered John Lennon. Inside the book Chapman had chillingly written: ‘To Holden Caulfield, from Holden Caulfield, this is my statement’.
Salinger had the capability to enrapture the reader and make them see the world through the eyes of Holden. However, this clarly had detramental impacts, in the case of the death of John Lennon. Moments where Holden expresses his violent nature, stating that he would “rather push a guy out of the window or chop his head off with an ax than sock him in the jaw”, had the capability to drive some individuals to murder. The fact that the novel was censored in America from 1961 to 1982 highlights that people were shocked by its use of swear words and violent nature.
Salinger had the capability to enrapture the reader and make them see the world through the eyes of Holden.
However, Holden’s narrative has created a friend for thousands of readers. The novel discusses themes of grief, loss of innocence and the pain of transitioning into the adult world. Everyone on this planet was once a child and so can understand the heartache of being young and seeing how ‘phony’ adults can be. Through the eyes of Holden, we see his desperation to hold onto innocence.
The fact that we are discussing Salinger’s work on his 100th birthday proves what an important impact he has had on societies from the 1950s onwards. His themes of grief and loss of innocence will never get old, in the same way that Holden wants to remain forever young.