Catcher in the Rye Banned: Controversy & Explanation

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  • 0:03 ''The Catcher in the Rye''
  • 0:23 Book Bans & Challenges
  • 1:06 Continued Popularity
  • 1:25 Link to Assassination Attempts
  • 2:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

''The Catcher in the Rye'' by J.D. Salinger has been the center of controversy since its publication in 1951. In this lesson, we'll learn some of the reasons why it has been one of the most frequently banned books in U.S. history.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is number two on the Radcliffe Publishing Course's Top 100 novels of the 20th Century; however, it is also one of the most frequently banned, or censored, books of the century. Why would anyone want to ban such an important piece of literature?

Book Bans & Challenges

The first record of The Catcher in the Rye being banned was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1960 after an eleventh grade English teacher was fired for assigning the book to his class. Since then, more than 30 incidences have been recorded across the United States of the book being removed from schools and/or classes. Motives for censoring this text are numerous. Some of the claims about the book include assertion that it's:

  • Anti-white
  • Blasphemous
  • Centered around negative activity
  • Deals with immoral issues and the occult
  • Defamatory to God, the disabled, minorities, and women
  • Depicts alcohol abuse, premarital sex, and prostitution
  • Includes excessive violence and vulgar language
  • Is obscene

Continued Popularity

Interestingly, the harder the book opponents have worked to ban The Catcher in the Rye, the more attractive it has become to readers. Holden Caulfield has become an iconic symbol of teenage angst that has endured for more than 60 years. The book has sold more than 65 million copies.

Link to Assassination Attempts

While the main character, Holden Caulfield, calls himself a pacifist and tends to avoid physical confrontations, there have been at least three incidences in which the criminally insane have assassinated or attempted to assassinate high-profile people after identifying with Holden.

John Lennon

For example, in 1980 after Mark David Chapman shot ex-Beatle John Lennon outside of his New York apartment and in full view of Mr. Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, he nonchalantly looked through a copy of The Catcher in the Rye while waiting for police to arrive. Chapman's goal was to kill the most famous person he could.

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