The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that leaves you utterly perplexed once the last page has been turned. What did it mean? Will we ever know?
All we know is that thousands of youths identified with the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, and that the publication of The Catcher in the Rye was very controversial.
When Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon, he was carrying a paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
Make of that what you will.
The book was controversial because it presents, to the reader, Holden: a character who displays erratic, impulsive behaviour, and signs of depression and nervous breakdown. It gives no reason, nor any consequences, for his actions.
Since its publication in 1951, the book has been banned from several school, libraries and shops, because it rejected ideals promoted in schools and much of its subject matter is controversial.
So why is it still taught in schools?
It goes without saying that it’s well-written. It has a lot of content that school children can pick up on and write about,which make it teachable.
Being teachable isn’t enough. High school children are hard to motivate. In Holden, they find a character they can empathise with, relate to. Finally they are understood.
The book makes no attempt to be anything more than a book. It’s honest, unpretentious and engaging. It’s a tragedy in terms of plot, but the content it witty and dry. This makes it a book high school children will understand and want to read and study.
Maybe it’s the multiple reading of the novel that make it all the more study-able. Is it pessimistic or ironic? Uneventful or entertaining?
Personally, I read it cover to cover, and reread it almost as fast. I find it enlightening, entertaining; yes, it’s ambiguous, but is that a bad thing? It makes the readers use their brains to work out what it meant, and that’s always a good thing in my books.