The Catcher in the Rye: Literary Criticism

Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson briefly explores the historical context as well as positive and negative views of JD Salinger's novel ''The Catcher in the Rye''. We'll also explore common comparisons between ''The Catcher in the Rye'' and other works of literature.

The Catcher in the Rye: Literary Criticism

Red Cover of The Catcher in the Rye

If you are or were a high school student in America, chances are you've read JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. In the decades since its first publication in 1951, the story has continued to enthrall young readers who relate to the young, anti-establishment narrator, Holden Caulfield. The character is pretty irresistible to any teenager who has ever felt misunderstood by adults. But what about beyond the classroom? What was the historical and critical reception of this novel like? This lesson will examine the most prevalent positive and negative views of The Catcher in the Rye, as well as common comparisons between it and other works of literature.

Historical Context

The Catcher in the Rye was published at the beginning of the 1950s, a time when conservative values were flourishing in America. Suburbs were on the rise, with rows and rows of houses that looked like each other. The economy was booming, and Americans were united against Communism. The character of Holden Caulfield bursts into this world and sees it through cynical eyes, railing against what he calls 'phonies' and speaking from a perspective of non-conformity. He uses vulgar language and speaks of then-taboo subjects, such as sex and depression. Not surprisingly, many were offended by such a character, leading to several instances of the novel being banned across the country in different libraries and schools.

Negative Reviews

The conservative general reading audience weren't the only ones to have problems with the novel. Several literary critics also had a negative interpretation. Many found the novel overly sentimental about the merits of youth. Some found it shallow and unrealistic. A common complaint noted Holden Caulfield grows tiresome with his incessant self-centeredness. In this view, Holden's rants and manner of speaking are too repetitive and grow monotonous for the reader.

Positive Reviews

Not all critics panned it - many found the novel refreshing, funny, and honest. Paul Engle of the Chicago Tribune found Holden Caulfield to be an authentic character with a teenage voice that rang true. He praised the novel as a unique contribution to the coming-of-age novel genre, in that its central character was so exceptional. Other critics praised Holden's combination of innocence and honesty. To many, Holden Caulfield is a heroic figure whose striking individualism and refusal to conform are admirable in a world where too many don't dare question the status quo.

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