The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Things You Didn't Know

Every book has a story—check out these 10 unusual facts about The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The Catcher in the Rye | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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The quintessential novel of teenage angst and rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye has sold more than 65 million copies since its release in 1951.

One of the most banned and censored novels of the 20th century, The Catcher in the Rye has been controversial due to its use of vulgar language, references to sex, smoking, and alcohol, and encouragement of rebellion.

Holden Caulfield, the novel's protagonist, is the poster child for disaffected youth; he has been said to have given voice to what every adolescent is secretly thinking. Although Holden would now be quite old—were he a real person—many teenagers today still find it easy to relate to him and his distrust of the adult world.

1. J.D. Salinger burned his fan mail.

Salinger was so averse to the trappings of success that he told a magazine he was "good and sick" of seeing his picture on the dust jacket of The Catcher in the Rye and demanded that it be removed from later editions. He also refused interviews and told his agent to burn any fan mail that came for him.

2. Holden Caulfield first appeared in Salinger's short stories.

Holden first appeared in Salinger's 1941 story, "Slight Rebellion Off Madison" (which wasn't published until 1946). In this early story, Holden is the same character we all know and love (or hate): "an upper-middle class teenager who begins railing against the things he hates." He appeared in several other short stories over the next decade.

3. Salinger wrote the bulk of The Catcher in the Rye as a soldier in World War II.

Salinger's experiences as a soldier shaped his writings during the war. Over these years, Salinger developed the character of Holden Caulfield across a series of short stories, several of which formed the backbone of The Catcher in the Rye. He even carried six chapters of the novel with him when he landed in France on D-Day.

The harrowing "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise," published in 1945, perhaps most directly reflects the war's toll on Salinger—narrated by Holden's brother Vincent (renamed D.B. in the novel), the story recounts Vincent's despair when he learns that Holden is missing in action. The Catcher in the Rye also subtly references Salinger's disillusionment with D.B.'s own cynical reflections on the war.

4. Salinger finished writing The Catcher in the Rye after his release from a mental hospital.

Salinger fought in World War II in Europe from 1942 to 1944. He suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his wartime experiences. When the war ended, he checked himself into a mental hospital in Nuremberg, Germany. After returning to New York in 1946, he quickly set to work finishing his novel.

5. Salinger left the country to avoid reading reviews of The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger hated the process of publishing, including having his work reviewed. He said that a writer who "let himself in for it" might as well "walk down Madison Avenue (in New York) with his pants down." As a result, he traveled to the British Isles just before the novel came out.

6. Holden Caulfield likes to repeat himself—a lot.

Holden Caulfield is famous for repeating his favorite catchphrases, including "phony" (appearing 35 times in the book) and "crazy" (77 times). A review of the book in the New York Times spoofed this style, using the word crumby six times.

7. The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most frequently banned books.

The Catcher in the Rye ranks high on the American Library Association's list of the most frequently banned and challenged classics. In 1963 parents in Columbus, Ohio, petitioned the school board to ban The Catcher in the Rye for being "anti-white." One library banned it for violating guidelines concerning "excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult."

However, many schools have reinstated it, and its popularity among students has endured. Some 250,000 copies of The Catcher in the Rye are still sold every year.

8. Murderers love The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye has unfortunately been associated with several tragic events. For example, Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, was reading Salinger's novel at the time of his arrest. Chapman identified strongly with Holden Caulfield and reportedly believed he would become Holden when he killed Lennon. He even tried to legally change his name to Holden Caulfield.

The book was also found in John Hinckley, Jr.'s apartment after he attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

9. Salinger was once caught in a love triangle with screen legend Charlie Chaplin.

In 1941 the 22-year-old Salinger met and fell head-over-heels for 16-year-old socialite Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. While dating, Salinger would send her "long daily letters"—but the romance ended when Salinger went to war and Oona moved to Hollywood to pursue acting.

In Hollywood, Oona met silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and she would eventually become his fourth wife. When Salinger read about the wedding in the papers, he was so angry that he sent Oona ''a scathing, scatological letter describing in disgusting detail his version of the Chaplins' wedding night.''

10. Salinger did not want The Catcher in the Rye made into a movie—at least not in his lifetime.

Although many offers were made to adapt The Catcher in the Rye for the big screen, Salinger was famously resistant to any and all such attempts. Salinger did, however, state in a 1957 letter that he was open to an adaptation being released after his death. He added, "It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won't have to see the results of the transaction."

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