Catcher in the rye is one of the most repeatedly banned and controversial coming-of-age books, and as we celebrate the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, it is a book worth reading or rereading. The novel has been challenged and/or banned because of profane language and sex, most of which seem tame in comparison to today's books, films and television programs. However the feelings and thoughts of the book's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, have appeal for teens and adults who are questioning their identity and place in the world. Originally the book was written for adults, but has always had a wider audience that includes young adults.
Holden Caulfield is precocious and world-weary beyond his sixteen years. His sense of alienation, ennui, melancholy and repeated attempts to fit in with classmates, teachers and school regulations result in a mental/emotional breakdown. Told in the first person narrative, Holden recounts past events including his expulsion from an exclusive boarding school in Pennsylvania because of bad grades. The most disillusioning advice came from a teacher who told the young man that "life is a game" and you need to learn to play it. Holden is not quite sure what he expects of life or himself, but living life as a game would not be it. Hoping to avoid dealing with his parents' reaction to his expulsion, he leaves school before the Christmas break, and heads off to New York where he checks into a hotel. He gets drunk, walks around New York City, and makes futile attempts to connect with several girls. His reactions to other people are often ambivalent or angry, and his thoughts are meandering. Some of the language and attitudes are representative of post World War II America, but Holden’s chafing at rules and regulations, which do not make sense to him, are relatively the attitudes of many young adults.
Aside from having been repeatedly banned, the novel has elicited divergent critical analyses over the years. Many critics consider the novel a modern masterpiece, a perfect book, while others find it flawed and disappointing because the protagonist has not achieved any major realization.