Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Author: J. D. Salinger

Year: 1951

Famous for: Extreme teen angst, "phoniness,” Holden’s red hunting cap.

Main character: Holden Caulfield, a mentally-unstable 16-year-old.

The scoop:

Let’s face it: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, is bleak. It’s about a 16-year-old guy named Holden Caulfield who is undergoing treatment in a mental hospital. Holden’s encounters with society tell the story of a teenager who can’t find his place in a pretty ugly world.

But there’s more to The Catcher in the Rye than teen angst and urban sleaze. Salinger presents Holden as a study in the self-contradictions of adolescence. By the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger gives Holden some reason for hope—and some hope for growing up. The world, Holden Caulfield comes to see, might not be quite so bad as he thought.

The Catcher in the Rye resources

Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye was there

Holden Caulfield was there…and there…and there…

Check out these resources for more about The Catcher in the Rye and its author, J.D. Salinger.

Here’s the original review of Catcher published in The New York Times on July 15, 1951.

Here’s an interactive map identifying locations of Holden Caulfield’s wanderings throughout Manhattan. Roll your cursor over the “pushpins” to read Salinger’s words about the Edmont Hotel (“Screwballs all over the place”) where Holden had his wince-inducing encounter with the Sunny, the hooker. Or Holden’s musings about his afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while he waited for Phoebe (“…two little kids came up to me and asked me if I knew where the mummies were.”)

Here’s a walking tour through J.D. Salinger’s New York, “a city that has been lost forever, but still somehow exists: dark, enigmatic, grown up.” Fun fact: Holden Caulfield may have wondered where Central Park’s ducks go in the freezing winter, but an historian at the Central Park Conservancy confirms that those ducks stay right where they are. (And here’s why those ducks don’t freeze.)

Here’s a debate about whether teens today can really relate to Holden Caulfield’s issues. The world of Catcher in the Rye is far removed from the world of Reddit. Or is it?

Here’s the scoop on three J.D. Salinger short stories leaked onto the internet in late November, 2013. Under the terms of Salinger’s will, the stories were supposed to have been locked up until 50 years after the author’s death (in other words, in 2060). Instead,  someone sold them on Ebay.

One of the stories, The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, is about the death of a 12 year-old boy, “Kenneth Caulfield,” from “heart troubles.” Salinger wrote Ocean in the early 1940s, then spent several fruitless years trying to find publisher for his gloomy yarn. By the end of that decade, Salinger had given up on the story, but not the character: He rechristened “Kenneth” as “Allie,” replaced “heart troubles” with leukemia, then handed the narrative over to one Holden Caulfield in a new novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

Perhaps that’s why Salinger sought to keep writings like The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls under lock and key.

Here’s a 10-day lesson plan with a refreshingly focused strategy for understanding Holden’s story. It concentrates on the emotional conflict that frames the plot of The Catcher in the Rye, where Holden wants to fit in with society, even though he’s repulsed by the “phoniness” required.


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