The Catcher in the Rye as a Modernist Classic: A Comparison with The Waste Land
Literary Criticisms on The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most popular and controversial novels of the 20th century. Written by J.D. Salinger in 1951, it tells the story of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy who runs away from his boarding school in New York and wanders around the city for three days, searching for meaning and connection. Along the way, he encounters various people and situations that reveal his alienation, cynicism, and vulnerability.
literary criticisms on the catcher in the rye
The novel has been widely read and discussed by critics and readers alike, who have praised or criticized it for its language, style, themes, characters, morality, and social relevance. Some have hailed it as a masterpiece of American literature that captures the essence of adolescence and modern society. Others have dismissed it as a vulgar, immature, and overrated work that corrupts young minds. In this article, we will explore some of the major literary criticisms on The Catcher in the Rye, examining how it relates to other works of literature, culture, and history.
The Catcher in the Rye as a Quest Narrative
One of the ways to understand The Catcher in the Rye is to see it as a quest narrative. A quest narrative is a type of story that follows a hero who goes on a journey to achieve a goal or find something valuable. Along the way, he faces various challenges, obstacles, and temptations that test his character, skills, and values.
Many critics have argued that The Catcher in the Rye belongs to the long tradition of epic quest narratives in western literature, such as The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and The Divine Comedy. These narratives often feature a hero who travels through a symbolic landscape that represents his inner and outer worlds, encountering different characters and situations that reflect his psychological and moral development.
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is the hero who goes on a quest to find himself and his place in the world. He leaves his school, Pencey Prep, which he hates for its phoniness and hypocrisy, and goes to New York City, which he sees as a corrupt and decadent place. He hopes to find some genuine and meaningful experiences and relationships that will make him happy and fulfilled. However, he soon realizes that he is not ready or able to connect with anyone or anything in the city. He feels lonely, depressed, and confused, and he constantly lies, drinks, smokes, and curses to cope with his problems. He also fantasizes about being a catcher in the rye, a protector of innocence who saves children from falling off a cliff into adulthood. He wants to preserve his own innocence and avoid the complexities and responsibilities of growing up.
However, Holden's quest is not entirely hopeless or futile. He also meets some people who show him kindness, compassion, and wisdom, such as his younger sister Phoebe, his former teacher Mr. Antolini, and the nuns at the train station. These people help him realize that he is not alone in his struggles and that he has some potential and value as a human being. They also challenge him to face his fears and doubts and to grow as a person. By the end of the novel, Holden seems to have learned some lessons from his quest and to have gained some insight into himself and his situation. He decides to go back home and to go to another school, implying that he is willing to give life another chance.
Holden Caulfield as a Modern Hero
Another way to understand The Catcher in the Rye is to see Holden Caulfield as a modern hero. A modern hero is a type of character who represents the values and conflicts of modern society. Unlike the traditional heroes of classical or medieval literature, who are often noble, brave, strong, and heroic, modern heroes are often ordinary, flawed, and anti-heroic. They reflect the alienation, disillusionment, and fragmentation of modern society, which is characterized by rapid change, industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and war.
Many critics have argued that Holden Caulfield is a modern hero who embodies the spirit and problems of the 20th century. He is a product of a wealthy but dysfunctional family that neglects him and sends him to various boarding schools. He is a victim of a traumatic event that marked his childhood: the death of his younger brother Allie from leukemia. He is a witness of a violent act that shocked his adolescence: the suicide of his classmate James Castle. He is a rebel against the norms and expectations of his society, which he sees as phony, superficial, and oppressive. He is a critic of the culture and institutions that shape his life, such as religion, education, and consumerism. He is a seeker of truth, beauty, and authenticity in a world that lacks them.
However, Holden Caulfield is not only a modern hero but also a flawed one. He is not able to cope with the challenges and realities of his time. He is not able to communicate or relate with others in a healthy or mature way. He is not able to understand or accept himself or others as they are. He is not able to find or create any meaning or purpose for his life. He is trapped in his own contradictions, confusions, and illusions. He is caught between his idealism and his cynicism, between his innocence and his experience, between his past and his future.
The Catcher in the Rye and American Culture
A third way to understand The Catcher in the Rye is to see it as a reflection of American culture. The novel explores some of the major themes and issues that define American culture, such as innocence, identity, and authenticity.
The Catcher in the Rye and Popular Culture
One aspect of American culture that The Catcher in the Rye engages with is popular culture. Popular culture refers to the forms of entertainment, art, and media that are widely consumed and enjoyed by the masses, such as music, movies, and celebrities. Popular culture often reflects the tastes, values, and attitudes of the people who produce and consume it.
The Catcher in the Rye both influenced and was influenced by popular culture. The novel influenced and was influenced by various forms of entertainment, art, and media that were widely consumed and enjoyed by the masses, such as music, movies, and celebrities. The novel both reflected and shaped the tastes, values, and attitudes of the people who produced and consumed it.
One of the most obvious examples of the novel's influence on popular culture is its connection to several shootings and murder attempts, especially Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon in 1980. Chapman identified with Holden Caulfield to the extent that he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield. He also wrote "This is my statement" and signed Holden's name on a copy of the book that he carried with him on the night he shot Lennon. He later read a passage from the novel to address the court during his sentencing. Some critics have speculated that Chapman had wanted to preserve Lennon's innocence by killing him, inspired by Holden's wish to protect children from falling into adulthood. Other shooters who were found with copies of the novel or who admitted to being influenced by it include John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, and Robert John Bardo, who murdered actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989.
Another example of the novel's influence on popular culture is its impact on music. Many musicians and bands have referenced or been inspired by The Catcher in the Rye in their songs, albums, or names. Some of these include The Beatles, who named their song "I Am the Walrus" after a line from the novel; Guns N' Roses, who used an image of Holden Caulfield on the cover of their album The Spaghetti Incident?; Green Day, who wrote a song called "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?" for their album Kerplunk; and Belle and Sebastian, who named their band after a book that Holden mentions in the novel. The novel has also been adapted into musicals and operas, such as Catcher: A New Musical by Richard Cox and Catcher: An Opera by Richard Wargo.
A third example of the novel's influence on popular culture is its presence in movies. Many movies have based characters or plots on The Catcher in the Rye or have referenced or alluded to it in some way. Some of these include Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which features a rebellious teenager named Jim Stark who resembles Holden Caulfield; The Graduate (1967), which follows a disillusioned college graduate named Benjamin Braddock who has an affair with an older woman; Taxi Driver (1976), which stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a lonely and violent taxi driver who tries to save a teenage prostitute; Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), which depicts a charismatic high school student named Ferris Bueller who skips school and has various adventures in Chicago; Igby Goes Down (2002), which portrays a cynical and troubled prep school dropout named Igby Slocumb who escapes to New York; and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), which tells the story of a shy and sensitive freshman named Charlie who befriends a group of misfits.
The Catcher in the Rye and Censorship
Another aspect of American culture that The Catcher in the Rye engages with is censorship. Censorship refers to the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security. Censorship often reflects the values and norms of a society and its institutions, such as government, religion, education, and media.
The Catcher in the Rye has faced controversy and censorship for its language, morality, and subversiveness ever since its publication. The novel contains profanity, slang, and sexual references that some people find offensive or inappropriate for young readers. The novel also portrays Holden Caulfield as a rebellious, disrespectful, and immoral character who smokes, drinks, lies, and rejects authority. The novel also challenges the status quo and criticizes the hypocrisy and corruption of society and its institutions.
As a result of these factors, The Catcher in the Rye has been banned or challenged by various groups and individuals over the years. Some of these include parents, teachers, librarians, school boards, religious organizations, and governments. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the 10th most frequently challenged book in the United States from 1990 to 1999 and the 19th most frequently challenged book from 2000 to 2009. Some of the reasons given for banning or challenging the novel include its vulgar language, sexual content, negative attitude, anti-Christian message, and encouragement of rebellion and suicide.
However, The Catcher in the Rye has also been defended and celebrated by many people who see it as a valuable and meaningful work of literature. They argue that the novel is an honest and realistic portrayal of adolescence and society that speaks to the experiences and emotions of many readers. They also claim that the novel is a powerful and positive expression of individuality, creativity, and freedom that inspires and challenges readers to think for themselves and to question the world around them.
The Catcher in the Rye and Other Literary Works
A fourth way to understand The Catcher in the Rye is to see it as a part of the literary canon. The literary canon refers to the set of works that are considered to be the most important and influential in a certain language, culture, or period. The literary canon often reflects the aesthetic, historical, and cultural values of a society and its institutions, such as academia, publishing, and criticism.
The Catcher in the Rye has been compared and contrasted with other works of literature that belong to the same or different literary traditions, genres, or movements. Some of these comparisons and contrasts reveal similarities or differences in themes, styles, characters, or contexts. Some of these also show how The Catcher in the Rye has influenced or been influenced by other works of literature.
The Catcher in the Rye and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
One of the most common and significant comparisons that has been made between The Catcher in the Rye and another literary work is with Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1884). Both novels feature a young protagonist who tells his own story using colloquial language and humor. Both novels also follow a picaresque structure, which involves a series of episodic adventures that expose the protagonist to various aspects of society. Both novels also explore the themes of innocence, freedom, identity, and morality.
However, there are also some important differences between The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn. One difference is the historical and cultural context of each novel. Huckleberry Finn is set in the antebellum South before the Civil War, while The Catcher in the Rye is set in postwar America after World War II. Another difference is the tone and perspective of each novel. Huckleberry Finn is more optimistic and hopeful about human nature and society, while The Catcher in the Rye is more pessimistic and cynical. A third difference is the outcome and resolution of each novel. Huckleberry Finn ends with Huck escaping from civilization and heading west for more adventures, while The Catcher in the Rye ends with Holden returning to civilization and going to another school.
The Catcher in the Rye and J.D. Salinger's Other Works
Another comparison that has been made between The Catcher in the Rye and another literary work is with J.D. Salinger's other stories and novels. Salinger wrote several short stories and one novella that expand on the themes and characters of The Catcher in the Rye. Some of these stories include "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), "Franny and Zooey" (1961), "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" (1963), and "Seymour: An Introduction" (1963). These stories focus on the Glass family, a group of seven siblings who are exceptionally intelligent, talented, and spiritual but also troubled, unhappy, and alienated.
One of the connections between The Catcher in the Rye and Salinger's other works is Holden Caulfield's relationship with his older brother D.B., who is a successful but sellout Hollywood writer. D.B. is similar to Buddy Glass, who is also a writer and who narrates some of Salinger's stories. Another connection is Holden Caulfield's admiration for his younger brother Allie, who died of leukemia when Holden was 13. Allie is similar to Seymour Glass, who is also a genius and who committed suicide when he was 31. A third connection is Holden Caulfield's encounter with two nuns at a train station in New York. The nuns are similar to Franny Glass, who is also a religious seeker and who suffers a nervous breakdown at a train station.
The Catcher in the R ye and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land
A third comparison that has been made between The Catcher in the Rye and another literary work is with T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922). Both works are considered modernist masterpieces that express a sense of despair and fragmentation in modern society. Both works also draw on a dizzying array of literary, musical, historical, and popular cultural allusions to create a complex and rich texture of meaning.
However, there are also some notable differences between The Catcher in the Rye and The Waste Land. One difference is the form and structure of each work. The Waste Land is a poem that consists of five sections with different speakers, locations, and times, while The Catcher in the Rye is a novel that follows a single narrator over a span of three days. Another difference is the tone and mood of each work. The Waste Land is more obscure and elusive, requiring extensive annotation and interpretation, while The Catcher in the Rye is more accessible and straightforward, appealing to a wider audience. A third difference is the attitude and perspective of each work. The Waste Land is more pessimistic and cynical, offering little hope or redemption for humanity, while The Catcher in the Rye is more ambivalent and hopeful, suggesting some possibility of growth and change for the protagonist.
The Catcher in the Rye and Its Legacy
A fifth way to understand The Catcher in the Rye is to see it as a legacy. A legacy is something that is handed down or inherited from the past, such as a tradition, a reputation, or an influence. A legacy often reflects the impact and significance of something or someone on the present and the future.
The Catcher in the Rye has left a lasting legacy on literature, society, and education. The novel has inspired and challenged many writers and readers who have found resonance and relevance in its themes, style, and character. The novel has also resonated with various social movements and issues that have emerged or evolved since its publication. The novel has also become a staple of high school and college curricula and has sparked debates about literary value and pedagogy.
The Catcher in the Rye and Its Impact on Literature
One aspect of the novel's legacy is its impact on literature. The novel has inspired and influenced many writers who have admired or emulated its voice, style, or themes. Some of these writers include Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger's contemporary and fellow member of the Beat Generation; Sylvia Plath, who wrote a poem called "The Jailer" that echoes Holden's feelings of entrapment; John Updike, who wrote a parody of The Catcher in the Rye called "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?" that criticizes Holden's naivete; Kurt Vonnegut, who praised Salinger as "my favorite living writer" and whose novel Slaughterhouse-Five features a character named Paul Lazzaro who carries a copy of The Catcher in the Rye; Stephen Chbosky, who wrote a coming-of-age novel called The Perks of Being a Wallflower that pays homage to Salinger's novel; and David Levithan, who wrote a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye called Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist that follows two teenagers who bond over their love for music.
The novel has also challenged and provoked many writers who have criticized or contested its voice, style, or themes. Some of these writers include Norman Mailer, who dismissed Salinger as "a very minor writer" and Holden as "a sissy"; John Aldridge, who accused Salinger of "sentimentalizing" Holden and creating a "false myth" of adolescence; Joan Didion, who wrote an essay called "On Self-Respect" that argues against Holden's self-pity and passivity; Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote a novel called American Psycho that features a serial killer named Patrick Bateman who hates Holden Caulfield; and J.D. California (a pseudonym), who wrote a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye that depicts an elderly Holden Caulfield escaping from a nursing home.
The Catcher in the Rye and Its Impact on Society
Another aspect of the novel's legacy is its impact on society. The novel has resonated with various social movements and issues that have emerged or evolved since its publication. Some of these include youth culture, mental health, and violence.
The novel has resonated with youth culture, which refers to the cultural expressions and identities of young people. The novel has captured the feelings and experiences of many young people who have felt alienated, rebellious, or confused by the adult world. The novel has also inspired many young people to adopt or create their own styles, values, and attitudes that differ from or challenge the mainstream. The novel has also been a