Catcher in the rye
Catcher in the rye has for over 50 years become one of the most talked about books that has received a cult following from teenagers and adults who feel disgruntled with society. The books success is not just owed to the style it was written in but almost as much to the context of the world around when it was released in 1951, the underlying tones in the book which are central to Holden un-American views of his mother country and its consumer society.
The book has gained a reputation as being controversial due to Holdens rebellious nature towards the American society although its not as controversial today. The world at this time was becoming increasingly easy to split between the East and West and with this divide also came conflicting political systems. The West believed in capitalism, with the largest country being the USA. Capitalism promotes a consumerist society where freedom to chose is of the foremost importance.
This means freedom to buy what goods you wanted and to be able to live the American dream where through hard work you could ” make a million “. The danger of this is people start to measure their lives by what they own rather than what they have in terms of happiness. Capitalism also causes people to always want the new washing machine or upgraded version of their car stopping those who are materialistic from ever being content with what they have.
Communism on the other hand is where a nation works together for the good of their country as a whole, everyone is seen as an equal. This equality is taken to extremes with all of the people having their clothes, possessions and even their cars regulated and provided by the government. The largest country to do this was the old USSR (Russia). These two systems led to the cold war; there wasn’t a full-scale war but a period of East vs. West competition that led to McCarthyism in the USA, a political witch-hunt for politicians who had communist tendencies.
This is where the tones in Catcher in the rye would have been seen as controversial as well as the images the book also creates in the readers mind. When you breakdown Holden attitudes towards society un-American views become clear. A great example of this is how he detests the materialism in the society around him (usa) At one point he says, ” Work hard to buy a great big Cadalack they don’t even need”. This statement has very strong communist undertones and would have caused as stir amongst the Capitalist audience at to whether the book promotes communism, or just teenage problems.
When Holden meets the Nuns he looks up to them, as they aren’t involved in the “rat race” that by its nature tries to make people conform, something Holden doesn’t want to do to the American way of life. Holden shares the same passion as the nuns as he doesn’t chase the consumerist lifestyle of most Americans but would rather live on a ranch ” Id build me a little cabin somewhere… and live there for the rest of my life ” This very un-American dream is a form of Communism but at the time he say this he is beginning to get deeper into his depression, making this comment easily put down to his state of mind.
Even if his view could be put down to his mental state at the time it would make people think that Holden is a communist, with his lack of care for money and material possessions. One of Holden’s few possessions we are aware of is his ” red hunting hat ” and with red being the colour of communists and Holden’s putting on of the hat when he feels threatened creates a powerful image that communists protect people from capitalists.
These type of images caused debate between people who thought it should be banned due to the communist images it created and those who thought the book was a masterpiece. It wasn’t just the communist sympathies that Holden displayed that made the book controversial but is presentation as well. In America Holden’s use of bad language in the novel split peoples opinions, ” somebody sneak up and write fuck you right under your nose ” Some reviewers described the book as a ” sensational achievement ” where as others objected to its “use of bad language and shocking nature of some of the scenes “.
For the time the language was extreme and caused it to be condemned by educational authorities in America and even banned in some states. Although the reason for the book being banned was due to the language and the belief that Holden was thought to be a bad example to young people it could be argued that it was banned as people felt scared by the communist feelings that Holden displayed and didn’t want teenagers learning or reading the book as it may make them dislike how American people live and what they pursue.
Either way the controversy surrounding the book, which was created by these opinion-splitting properties that Salinger gave to Catcher in the rye helped it gain its reputation as one of the most controversial reads around at the time. One of the most powerful images in Catcher in the rye was when Holden, not present at the football game is instead standing next to a revolutionary war cannon above all of the others at Pency Pep who are at the match.
This could be seen as a very potent image encouraging the cold war to become a full-scale war. This would have caused tension for any capitalist reading the book and would have made the book controversial. Holden’s use of the term phoney which shows he uses to show his dislike at the shallowness of the people around him and the pursuit of material goods for me shows Holden has strong communist feelings and therefore, at the time could be seen as a potential figure head for secret communist’s living in America.
An example of this is when Holden refers to a conversation between Sally and George as being false, ” it was the phoniest conversation you had ever heard in your life ” The conversation was about the Lunts who were actors and how good they were, Holden disagreed as he sees actors as phoney and shallow, people who have to pretend to be other people to earn a living. We know he doesn’t like this as he said that his brother D. B was a “prostitute” as he stopped writing books in favour of films. Catcher in the rye reputation in the 1950s was fully deserved.
The mix of the style and content that Salinger had created was able to split peoples opinions of the book down the middle. It was controversial due to the context of the world it was released upon. In Holden, Salinger had given people a rebel figure to look up to who was not your typical American Hero. The American capitalist population who were alert to threats because of the fallout of world war two could have seen Holden as a threat as he went against their way of thinking but more importantly went towards a communist way of thinking.
Whether the novel would be a controversial today is unlikely. Communism is not seen as a threat anymore and the cold war has ended. The style and language used by Salinger to great affect is no longer controversial and is commonplace in many books and on T. V. Despite this events such as September 11th and the rise of terrorism has made Americans aware again of people who aren’t on their side with Holden possibly been as one.
The book for the right reader who intends to attack the capitalist lifestyle could be a motivator for them, even so there is much stronger anti-American material on the internet if they wish to read to become motivated. In my opinion Catcher in the ryes reputation in the 1950s was deserved but over time it became less controversial as the threat of communism fell. Recent events have made the book start to become more controversial due to Holdens un-American views but overall its has become less controversial since its release.