Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Catcher in The Rye, by J.D. Salinger. The list of memorable American literary characters that stretches from Hester Prynne to Huckleberry Finn to Jay Gatsby can’t be complete now without Holden Caulfield.
Catcher features a first-person, stream-of-consciousness style from Caulfield’s point of view. He’s in that peculiar phase between adolescence and adulthood, and his musings reflect this changing state of mind.
Though written for adults, teenagers have always identified with Caulfield. Even now, some 250,000 copies of the novel are sold each year, approximately 65 million copies in all. J.D. Salinger had a bad experience with a film adaptation of an earlier work, so he remained adamant until his death earlier this year that Catcher would never be made into a movie. Perhaps his estate will be more flexible, and we might see this story on film someday soon.
Both Time Magazine and Modern Library named The Catcher in the Rye among the Top 100 novels written in the 20th century.
By the way, in case you don’t remember where the book’s title originated, it comes from Holden’s mishearing of a line in a Robert Burns poem. Here’s how he explains it: “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 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.”