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The Catcher in the Rye

Banned by many schools and libraries when first published in 1951, “The Catcher in the Rye” has been courting controversy for half a century. J.D. Salinger’s soul-searching novel of youthful alienation has long since faced down its initially hostile reception. Nowadays it is one of the most frequently taught books in high school English classes in the United States.

In the deeply conservative early 1950s, many Americans were shocked by “Catcher”’s explicit language and open treatment of delicate issues such as psychological instability and sexuality. Most of the controversy nowadays, however, concerns how the book and its precocious1 hero are interpreted.

Holden Caulfield is the 16-year-old schoolboy whose first-person narrative of his mental breakdown over several days forms the basic plot. Critics generally agree that he is the only substantial character in the novel. However, opinions are divided on the outcome of Holden’s constant raging against the hypocrisy2 of the adult world: Some see his eventual acceptance of reality as a positive view of his maturation, while others view his capitulation3 as an indictment of an oppressive society.

The author has fueled controversy himself by remaining a reclusive4 figure who has refused to comment on his work or publish anything further. Whatever his opinions, there is no doubting the book that made him famous presents a challenge to readers who care to contemplate the emptiness and isolation of the human condition.

Holden Caulfield, the central character in “The Catcher in the Rye”, has been compared with Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s naive5 adolescent runaway in the novel of the same name. Both boys are trying to make sense of the world while seeking stability and independence.

At the beginning of “The Catcher in the Rye”, Holden has just been kicked out of yet another boarding school. Having a few days to kill before returning home for the Christmas break, he hops on a train to New York. There he spends his time wandering aimlessly from one brief encounter6 to another, getting progressively more disgusted with what he calls the phoniness of the adult world.

Holden craves the innocence and simplicity of childhood, while at the same time doing a number of “adult” things such as trying to get a drink in a bar and meeting with a prostitute. Eventually, with the help of his younger sister, he comes to the realization that children cannot be protected forever from the imperfections of the adult world. This is not achieved, however, without Holden first driving himself to the brink7 of insanity.

Like “The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn”, “The Catcher in the Rye” is a coming-of-age8 novel. It is written in the language of its time, yet covers issues that are still relevant to young people today. It is likely to retain its status as a thought-provoking, if somewhat depressing, read for quite some time.

1. precocious a. 早熟的
2. hypocrisy n. 伪善
3. capitulation n. 投降
4. reclusive a. 隐遁的
5. naive a. 天真的
6. encounter n. 遭遇,邂逅
7. brink n. 边缘
8. coming-of-age n. 成年,成熟








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