Looking Back after 70 Years: Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States.

By Balthazar Malevolent

Looking Back after 70 Years: Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

Seventy years ago, on July 16, 1951, American author Jerome Salinger published his The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that defined the development not only of literature but also various fundamental processes in culture and public consciousness in the second half of the twentieth century.

Its release, despite the immediate critical acclaim, was accompanied by a considerable uproar and attempts to censor it for its use of obscene language, abundant sexual scenes, blasphemy, undermining of family values, incitement to rebellion, and promotion of alcohol, smoking, lying, sexual promiscuity and other mortal sins.

Over 70 years, the novel and its protagonist, the rebellious teenager Holden Caulfield, the precursor of the Beatniks and the hippies, have acquired vast mythology that only reinforces the unrelenting interest in the book.

This mythology, like the novel itself, is highly controversial. The liberation of youth consciousness that took place in the 1950s and '60s, largely predicted or even encouraged by Salinger's novel, was not only positive.

When Mark Chapman fired lethal bullets at John Lennon on 9 December 1980, a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" was found with him during his arrest, and he read extracts from the book to explain his actions in court.

The cult of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger's only novel, was either willingly or unwillingly reinforced by the writer himself. A few years after the book's publication he became reclusive, occasionally publishing a collection of short stories. Numerous rumours of a literary sequel to The Catcher in the Rye remained unconfirmed.

The novel has consistently made lists of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. On this anniversary, it makes sense to remember both the novel and the extraordinary fate of its author.

All these years the literary world has heard rumours of new novels being written by the writer in his reclusive state. He died in 2010 at the age of 91. The family had promised the publication of the writer's unpublished books by the 100th anniversary of his birth, on 1 January 2019.

However, in February 2019, his son Matt released the following statement:

“[My father] wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time,” Matt Salinger says. “This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material. ... [But] there’s not a reluctance or a protectiveness: When it’s ready, we’re going to share it.”

Two and a half years have passed since then. If Salinger's unpublished books are ever published, it will be one of the greatest literary sensations of our century.

The Catcher in the Rye - 1951 First edition dust jacket.
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