Glossary entry for
Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is a wonderful "must read" novel by J. D. Salinger (1919- ). This book has been steeped in controversy since it was banned in America after its first publication (1951). Superficially the story of a young man's expulsion from yet another school, The Catcher in the Rye is in fact a perceptive study of one individual's understanding of his human condition. Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in 1950s New York, has been expelled from school for poor achievement once again. In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to 'take a vacation' before returning to his parents' inevitable wrath. Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden's thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown, symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behaviour, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.

The famous "title sequence" of the novel runs like this (Holden speaking):

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and CATCH them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye, and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

The author, J. D. Salinger, is so publicity shy that he refuses to give interviews or make public appearences. He even tried to stop the publication of a recent biography and sued the author, Ian Hamilton. (This grouchy persona might remind many a reader of these pages of Van's behaviour in the media spotlight).

Contributed by Bent Sorensen

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