J.D. Salinger, aged 91, passed away recently. He leaves behind his greatest work, The Catcher in the Rye, portraying teenage angst and rebellion.

What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye said his final goodbye recently, at the age of 91. Was it a sad goodbye or bad goodbye? We will never know.

The man who gave us Holden Caulfield, lived for decades in self imposed isolation in a small remote house in Cornish, New Hampshire, U.S. His book The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. Originally published for adults, it became very popular with the adolescent reader. Salinger captured the teenager's angst and rebellion as portrayed in his protagonist and antihero Caulfield.


The story is told by Caulfield as he leaves Pencey Prep, a college preparatory school, from which he has been expelled. What follows is a search for himself, for understanding and for meaning. His experiences are neither simple nor mundane. Some are even unpleasant and distasteful.

The book gets its name from Robert Burns' poem “Coming Through the Rye”. At one point, Caulfield sneaks into his parents' apartment to see his sister Phoebe and shares with her his fantasy of being the sole guardian of children running and playing in a field of rye that is at the edge of the cliff. He says it is his job to catch the children if they go too close to the edge. He is the catcher in the rye.

Later, he drops in to see his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini. It is midnight, and Caulfield is given advice and a place to spend the night. Antolini tells him that it is the stronger man who lives humbly, rather than dies nobly, for a cause. This goes against Caulfield's idea of being the catcher in the rye – an almost godlike figure who has to save the children.

The book leaves one with a twinge of sadness with Caulfield telling you that he would be in another school soon, and that he misses his mates, Stradlater and Ackley from his other school.

However, all was not well with The Catcher… because many found the frank language and Caulfield's attitude worrying. So for a time it was even considered restricted reading.

In 1955, Salinger wrote in a short note for 20th Century Authors, “I'm aware that a number of my friends will be saddened, or shocked, or shocked-saddened, over some of the chapters of The Catcher in the Rye. Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all of my best friends are children. It's almost unbearable to me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach.”


Endpaper: Salinger's silenceFebruary 8, 2010