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Episode
185

The Catcher in the Rye

Aug 17, 2021
Arts & Culture
-
20
minutes
English books
Literature
USA
US politics
Morality
Crime
Philosophy
1960s

It's one of the most controversial books in American history and continues to be banned in many American classrooms.

In this episode, we'll explore this cult book, and the life of its mysterious author, J.D. Salinger.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the cult book by J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. 

[00:00:32] It is a book that is consistently considered as one of the finest novels of the 20th century, but has almost as many critics as it does admirers.

[00:00:44] It has been called a dangerous book, and is frequently listed as one of the most banned books in American classrooms. 

[00:00:54] It is even accused of being responsible for the murder of John Lennon, of Beatles fame, and of an assassination attempt on a US president.

[00:01:06] So, in this episode we are going to talk about the book itself, about its author, about why it is so important, and we’ll also look at the impact that it has had on the English language.

[00:01:21] This is actually a request from a great member of Leonardo English, an awesome guy from Spain called Pedro, so thank you Pedro for this request.

[00:01:30] And, the final administrative point that I should add is that you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy this episode. Indeed, if you haven’t read it, I hope listening to this episode might inspire you to do so.

[00:01:46] OK, without further ado let’s get started.

[00:01:52] On 6th December 1980, a 25-year-old former security guard named Mark Chapman took a flight from Honolulu, in Hawaii, to New York.

[00:02:05] On the morning of 8th December, he hung around outside the apartment block where John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been renting the penthouse.

[00:02:16] It wasn’t uncommon for fans to wait outside - although The Beatles had broken up 10 years before, John Lennon was still incredibly famous, and was still mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:02:32] At around 5pm, when Lennon and Yoko Ono were about to head out to the recording studio, Chapman approached The Beatle and asked him for his autograph. 

[00:02:44] Lennon obliged, he gave Chapman his autograph, he got into a limousine and went to the recording studio.

[00:02:53] At about 11pm later on that evening, John Lennon and Yoko Ono returned, tired from a long evening recording.

[00:03:02] As Lennon got out of the limousine, Chapman emerged from the shadows, pulled out a gun and shot him four times.

[00:03:12] Chapman calmly put the gun down as the rock star lay in front of him dying. 

[00:03:19] He didn’t try to run and hide. 

[00:03:21] Instead, he sat down and pulled out a book. Inside the book, he had written “This is my statement”.

[00:03:31] That book was J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:03:36] Now, there are all sorts of theories about why Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon. 

[00:03:43] The truth is that nobody seems to know for sure, not even Mark Chapman.

[00:03:48] But this book that he was holding, The Catcher in the Rye, was immediately blamed.

[00:03:54] Since its publication in 1951, 29 years before, critics had been saying that this was a dangerous book. They had warned that it was dangerous to read, and that it would provoke people to do bad things.

[00:04:11] With the murder of John Lennon, their worst fears had come true.

[00:04:16] But what, you might be asking yourself, what could possibly be so terrible about this book that people feared it so badly?

[00:04:26] Well, at first glance, perhaps not so much.

[00:04:30] The book is relatively short, it’s a couple of hundred pages long. 

[00:04:35] It is written in the form of a diary, narrated by a character called Holden Caulfield, who is a 16-year-old American boy disillusioned with life. 

[00:04:47] Caulfield has just been kicked out of an expensive private school. 

[00:04:53] He heads to New York and writes down what goes on over the course of a two-day period.

[00:05:00] It is written in what’s called a “stream of consciousness” style, as if the narrator was writing down his exact feelings at the moment he felt them.

[00:05:12] Caulfield is very much an anti-hero - he uses bad language, he lies, he is inconsistent, he doesn’t have the traditional attributes of a hero. 

[00:05:25] Indeed, almost everything that could possibly go wrong for Caulfield, goes wrong.

[00:05:31] And as readers, we aren’t really sure what to make of Caulfield, or of the book. In much of the previous American literary tradition, it was clear how you should feel about the characters in a novel.

[00:05:46] Some were good, and you should support them. Others were bad, and the fact that they were bad characters would mean that they wouldn’t succeed.

[00:05:55] Of course, this is a great simplification, but it often holds true.

[00:06:00] With The Catcher in the Rye, we aren’t sure what to think. 

[00:06:05] Some readers might read it and find Caulfield to be a terrible character, lying, fake himself, and not someone you would want to spend time with.

[00:06:15] While others might read it and see Caulfield to be the only person in the world who is speaking the truth.

[00:06:23] Another interesting aspect of the book is that there really isn’t a huge amount of development of Caulfield’s character. 

[00:06:31] In the literary tradition of the time there was often the idea that an anti-hero type of character would achieve some kind of redemption as the novel went on, that they would understand the world better, and they would develop as a character.

[00:06:49] But with The Catcher in the Rye, we really are left guessing - it is not clear in the slightest - if Holden Caulfield has learnt anything.

[00:06:59] All of this put together beautifully encapsulates the experience of being a teenager, especially that of a teenager in post-war America, someone who was trying to understand the world, struggling with it, and [as the book ends] still hasn’t reached any kind of conclusions.

[00:07:22] The unique narrative style, combined with the fact that it was immediately relatable to teenagers, meant that it started to appear in classrooms, as teachers used it with their students. 

[00:07:35] I can remember reading it while at school, and can vividly remember it being one of the books that everyone was very happy to read, because it was so relatable to the emotions the teenagers were feeling.

[00:07:49] But, not everyone was happy with the fact that it was being taught in schools.

[00:07:55] In 1960, 9 years after it was first published, an Oklahoma school teacher lost her job after she refused to stop teaching the book to her class of 16-year-olds.

[00:08:09] She appealed and got her job back, but on the condition that she stopped teaching this book.

[00:08:16] The criticism?

[00:08:18] That Holden Caulfield sets a bad example for teenagers, and that reading The Catcher in the Rye might mean that impressionable teenagers would behave in a similar way to the protagonist.

[00:08:32] Holden Caulfield smoked, he tried to order alcohol at a bar, despite being underage, he tried to hire a prostitute, he skipped school, he lied, he behaved in a way that was contrary to good American values.

[00:08:48] And so, so the argument goes, he was a bad example and teenagers shouldn’t read his story.

[00:08:55] If you have listened to the last episode, episode 183, on Banned Books, you will remember that we talked about some of the reasons that books are banned, and put it down to four main categories: political, sexual, moral, and religious.

[00:09:14] There is, of course, quite a lot of overlap between some of these categories, but the book we are talking about today, The Catcher in the Rye, is mostly objected to on moral grounds, that it would create a generation of teenagers with the moral compass of Holden Caulfield, that is, not much of a moral compass at all. 

[00:09:37] Although the book remained a controversial choice in American schools, it continued to fly off the shelves, it was sold and read in large quantities.

[00:09:48] And then, in 1980, it was seen as the inspiration for the murder of one of the most famous musicians in the world.

[00:09:57] Mark Chapman had said that he was inspired by Holden Caulfield, and said he had decided to kill John Lennon because he was a “phoney”.

[00:10:07] A “phoney” is a slang way to say that someone is fake, that they aren’t true to themselves, and Chapman said he believed that Lennon had turned into a phoney, and by killing him, he was preserving the original, non-phoney John Lennon for future generations.

[00:10:28] It wasn’t to be the only time that the book was involved in an assassination attempt.

[00:10:34] A year later, in 1981, a man named John Hinkley Jr tried to kill the American president Ronald Reagan, and the police later found a copy of The Catcher in The Rye in his hotel room. 

[00:10:49] He admitted that he was a fan of the book, but it was dismissed as not having played a role in his motivation to kill the US president. 

[00:10:59] After all, it was one of the best known books in the US, and had been read by tens of millions of Americans. If a few people who read the book turned out to have murderous ambitions, to want to kill people, that surely wasn’t the fault of the book.

[00:11:18] Now, the part of The Catcher in the Rye that we haven’t really spoken about at all yet is its author, J. D. Salinger.

[00:11:27] This is deliberate, I’ve put this part at the end on purpose, because J. D. Salinger did not enjoy attention. 

[00:11:35] Indeed, while other authors might enjoy the fame and fortune that writing a bestselling book might bring them, J.D Sallinger did not.

[00:11:47] Shortly after The Catcher in the Rye was published, Salinger essentially withdrew from public life. 

[00:11:54] He continued to write, but would very rarely publish his works.

[00:12:00] He reportedly wrote another 15 novels, but decided not to publish any of them, writing only for himself.

[00:12:08] He also fiercely resisted allowing anyone to make a film of his book. Obviously, this would have been a pretty easy way to earn a lot of money, but Salinger said no, he wouldn’t sell, no matter how much he was offered.

[00:12:25] But The Catcher in the Rye is inseparable from the life of J. D. Salinger, and the links between his own life, the writing of the book, and its protagonist, are fascinating.

[00:12:39] For starters, it took Salinger over 10 years to write the book. 

[00:12:44] He first started developing the character of Holden Caulfield in the early 1940s, before he was shipped off to fight in the Second World War.

[00:12:55] Salinger fought at D-Day, when the Allied forces invaded Northern France, and he was also part of the liberation groups at the Nazi concentration camps.

[00:13:07] This experience, as one can only imagine, deeply affected him, and he spent time in a mental hospital at the end of the war. 

[00:13:17] He was probably suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

[00:13:24] Throughout the Second World War, he kept his notebooks, with what was the first draft of The Catcher in the Rye, in his pocket. 

[00:13:33] From rushing onto the beach in Northern France through to liberating Paris, right through to walking through the gates of the concentration camp at Dachau and seeing the horrors that the Nazis had left behind, he kept his precious manuscript with him at all times.

[00:13:52] There are several theories that The Catcher in the Rye reflects the great sense of loss and alienation that Salinger himself felt during the war. 

[00:14:03] Through Caulfield, the book’s narrator, Salinger is echoing his own feelings, his own confusion about the world, and this is his own way of trying to make sense of what he had experienced in Europe during the Second World War.

[00:14:20] This is all theory though. 

[00:14:22] Salinger rarely gave any interviews, and he never talked in detail about Holden Caulfield.

[00:14:29] Knowing what we now know about his experience during the war, how he kept the text with him throughout, and how long he spent perfecting the text afterwards, perhaps it becomes a little more understandable why he was so possessive over its integrity, never wanting it to be altered or turned into a film or play.

[00:14:53] Now, let’s finish this episode by talking about some of the influences that this book has had on the English language.

[00:15:01] It’s worth pointing out that the language that Caulfield uses was the language used by American teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s - Salinger isn’t thought to have invented words himself, but rather by becoming the vocabulary of probably the most famous unhappy American teenager of the 20th century, the language of Holden Caulfield has been immortalised.

[00:15:29] For starters, Caulfield swears a lot.

[00:15:33] He writes “Goddam” 237 times - everything seems to be goddam this and goddam that.

[00:15:41] He uses “bastard” 58 times, “Chris sake” 31 times and he says “fuck” 6 times.

[00:15:50] Especially for more conservative parents, this was enough on its own to stop it being taught in schools.

[00:15:59] Other than the swear words, he uses the word “phoney” 42 times. To remind you, phoney means fake, not true, but Caulfield uses it in a more liberal sense, using it to describe almost anyone he doesn’t like.

[00:16:18] You might not hear many people using the word “phoney” now, but it is a word that will forever be associated with The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:16:28] And although some of the language and setting does feel a little dated, it does feel a little old, how Holden feels is as relevant to teenagers today as it was when it was published in 1951, and the book continues to be taught in schools throughout the English-speaking world.

[00:16:50] It continues to have its critics, and is added and removed from school curriculums depending on how liberal the governing body is, but tens of millions of schoolchildren still read it every single year.

[00:17:05] And no doubt it will remain as relevant in 50 or 100 years as it is now, and was 70 years ago.

[00:17:13] As teenagers grow up, become adults and have their own children, they want their children to experience the same feelings they had when they read this book. 

[00:17:24] No matter whether it’s a Californian in 1951 or a teenager from Madrid in 2021, there are many of the same insecurities, the same struggles to understand the world, and the same feelings of disappointment.

[00:17:40] For sure, teenagers in 2021 have many different concerns than teenagers did in 1951. 

[00:17:48] Whether we are talking about climate change or navigating the complex world of your own online image. 

[00:17:55] And in 1951, teenagers were growing up in a completely new world, a world that had just come out of two devastating wars, and was essentially a new slate, a tabula rasa, an open door.

[00:18:11] So, a lot has changed.

[00:18:13] But a lot hasn’t. 

[00:18:16] The transition from childhood to adulthood is a confusing time, and when it comes to a book that really captures the essence of what it is like, it is hard to find one that does a better job than The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on J. D. Salinger’s classic book, The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:43] If you are up for trying out a cult American book, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. 

[00:18:49] The language is quite colloquial, there is quite a lot of slang in it, but once you get the hang of how Caulfield speaks, I think you will find it quite manageable.

[00:19:00] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:04] Have you read The Catcher in the Rye, either in English or in translation? What did you think of it? Does it deserve its high praise?

[00:19:13] Let’s get the discussion started - you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:25] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the cult book by J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. 

[00:00:32] It is a book that is consistently considered as one of the finest novels of the 20th century, but has almost as many critics as it does admirers.

[00:00:44] It has been called a dangerous book, and is frequently listed as one of the most banned books in American classrooms. 

[00:00:54] It is even accused of being responsible for the murder of John Lennon, of Beatles fame, and of an assassination attempt on a US president.

[00:01:06] So, in this episode we are going to talk about the book itself, about its author, about why it is so important, and we’ll also look at the impact that it has had on the English language.

[00:01:21] This is actually a request from a great member of Leonardo English, an awesome guy from Spain called Pedro, so thank you Pedro for this request.

[00:01:30] And, the final administrative point that I should add is that you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy this episode. Indeed, if you haven’t read it, I hope listening to this episode might inspire you to do so.

[00:01:46] OK, without further ado let’s get started.

[00:01:52] On 6th December 1980, a 25-year-old former security guard named Mark Chapman took a flight from Honolulu, in Hawaii, to New York.

[00:02:05] On the morning of 8th December, he hung around outside the apartment block where John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been renting the penthouse.

[00:02:16] It wasn’t uncommon for fans to wait outside - although The Beatles had broken up 10 years before, John Lennon was still incredibly famous, and was still mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:02:32] At around 5pm, when Lennon and Yoko Ono were about to head out to the recording studio, Chapman approached The Beatle and asked him for his autograph. 

[00:02:44] Lennon obliged, he gave Chapman his autograph, he got into a limousine and went to the recording studio.

[00:02:53] At about 11pm later on that evening, John Lennon and Yoko Ono returned, tired from a long evening recording.

[00:03:02] As Lennon got out of the limousine, Chapman emerged from the shadows, pulled out a gun and shot him four times.

[00:03:12] Chapman calmly put the gun down as the rock star lay in front of him dying. 

[00:03:19] He didn’t try to run and hide. 

[00:03:21] Instead, he sat down and pulled out a book. Inside the book, he had written “This is my statement”.

[00:03:31] That book was J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:03:36] Now, there are all sorts of theories about why Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon. 

[00:03:43] The truth is that nobody seems to know for sure, not even Mark Chapman.

[00:03:48] But this book that he was holding, The Catcher in the Rye, was immediately blamed.

[00:03:54] Since its publication in 1951, 29 years before, critics had been saying that this was a dangerous book. They had warned that it was dangerous to read, and that it would provoke people to do bad things.

[00:04:11] With the murder of John Lennon, their worst fears had come true.

[00:04:16] But what, you might be asking yourself, what could possibly be so terrible about this book that people feared it so badly?

[00:04:26] Well, at first glance, perhaps not so much.

[00:04:30] The book is relatively short, it’s a couple of hundred pages long. 

[00:04:35] It is written in the form of a diary, narrated by a character called Holden Caulfield, who is a 16-year-old American boy disillusioned with life. 

[00:04:47] Caulfield has just been kicked out of an expensive private school. 

[00:04:53] He heads to New York and writes down what goes on over the course of a two-day period.

[00:05:00] It is written in what’s called a “stream of consciousness” style, as if the narrator was writing down his exact feelings at the moment he felt them.

[00:05:12] Caulfield is very much an anti-hero - he uses bad language, he lies, he is inconsistent, he doesn’t have the traditional attributes of a hero. 

[00:05:25] Indeed, almost everything that could possibly go wrong for Caulfield, goes wrong.

[00:05:31] And as readers, we aren’t really sure what to make of Caulfield, or of the book. In much of the previous American literary tradition, it was clear how you should feel about the characters in a novel.

[00:05:46] Some were good, and you should support them. Others were bad, and the fact that they were bad characters would mean that they wouldn’t succeed.

[00:05:55] Of course, this is a great simplification, but it often holds true.

[00:06:00] With The Catcher in the Rye, we aren’t sure what to think. 

[00:06:05] Some readers might read it and find Caulfield to be a terrible character, lying, fake himself, and not someone you would want to spend time with.

[00:06:15] While others might read it and see Caulfield to be the only person in the world who is speaking the truth.

[00:06:23] Another interesting aspect of the book is that there really isn’t a huge amount of development of Caulfield’s character. 

[00:06:31] In the literary tradition of the time there was often the idea that an anti-hero type of character would achieve some kind of redemption as the novel went on, that they would understand the world better, and they would develop as a character.

[00:06:49] But with The Catcher in the Rye, we really are left guessing - it is not clear in the slightest - if Holden Caulfield has learnt anything.

[00:06:59] All of this put together beautifully encapsulates the experience of being a teenager, especially that of a teenager in post-war America, someone who was trying to understand the world, struggling with it, and [as the book ends] still hasn’t reached any kind of conclusions.

[00:07:22] The unique narrative style, combined with the fact that it was immediately relatable to teenagers, meant that it started to appear in classrooms, as teachers used it with their students. 

[00:07:35] I can remember reading it while at school, and can vividly remember it being one of the books that everyone was very happy to read, because it was so relatable to the emotions the teenagers were feeling.

[00:07:49] But, not everyone was happy with the fact that it was being taught in schools.

[00:07:55] In 1960, 9 years after it was first published, an Oklahoma school teacher lost her job after she refused to stop teaching the book to her class of 16-year-olds.

[00:08:09] She appealed and got her job back, but on the condition that she stopped teaching this book.

[00:08:16] The criticism?

[00:08:18] That Holden Caulfield sets a bad example for teenagers, and that reading The Catcher in the Rye might mean that impressionable teenagers would behave in a similar way to the protagonist.

[00:08:32] Holden Caulfield smoked, he tried to order alcohol at a bar, despite being underage, he tried to hire a prostitute, he skipped school, he lied, he behaved in a way that was contrary to good American values.

[00:08:48] And so, so the argument goes, he was a bad example and teenagers shouldn’t read his story.

[00:08:55] If you have listened to the last episode, episode 183, on Banned Books, you will remember that we talked about some of the reasons that books are banned, and put it down to four main categories: political, sexual, moral, and religious.

[00:09:14] There is, of course, quite a lot of overlap between some of these categories, but the book we are talking about today, The Catcher in the Rye, is mostly objected to on moral grounds, that it would create a generation of teenagers with the moral compass of Holden Caulfield, that is, not much of a moral compass at all. 

[00:09:37] Although the book remained a controversial choice in American schools, it continued to fly off the shelves, it was sold and read in large quantities.

[00:09:48] And then, in 1980, it was seen as the inspiration for the murder of one of the most famous musicians in the world.

[00:09:57] Mark Chapman had said that he was inspired by Holden Caulfield, and said he had decided to kill John Lennon because he was a “phoney”.

[00:10:07] A “phoney” is a slang way to say that someone is fake, that they aren’t true to themselves, and Chapman said he believed that Lennon had turned into a phoney, and by killing him, he was preserving the original, non-phoney John Lennon for future generations.

[00:10:28] It wasn’t to be the only time that the book was involved in an assassination attempt.

[00:10:34] A year later, in 1981, a man named John Hinkley Jr tried to kill the American president Ronald Reagan, and the police later found a copy of The Catcher in The Rye in his hotel room. 

[00:10:49] He admitted that he was a fan of the book, but it was dismissed as not having played a role in his motivation to kill the US president. 

[00:10:59] After all, it was one of the best known books in the US, and had been read by tens of millions of Americans. If a few people who read the book turned out to have murderous ambitions, to want to kill people, that surely wasn’t the fault of the book.

[00:11:18] Now, the part of The Catcher in the Rye that we haven’t really spoken about at all yet is its author, J. D. Salinger.

[00:11:27] This is deliberate, I’ve put this part at the end on purpose, because J. D. Salinger did not enjoy attention. 

[00:11:35] Indeed, while other authors might enjoy the fame and fortune that writing a bestselling book might bring them, J.D Sallinger did not.

[00:11:47] Shortly after The Catcher in the Rye was published, Salinger essentially withdrew from public life. 

[00:11:54] He continued to write, but would very rarely publish his works.

[00:12:00] He reportedly wrote another 15 novels, but decided not to publish any of them, writing only for himself.

[00:12:08] He also fiercely resisted allowing anyone to make a film of his book. Obviously, this would have been a pretty easy way to earn a lot of money, but Salinger said no, he wouldn’t sell, no matter how much he was offered.

[00:12:25] But The Catcher in the Rye is inseparable from the life of J. D. Salinger, and the links between his own life, the writing of the book, and its protagonist, are fascinating.

[00:12:39] For starters, it took Salinger over 10 years to write the book. 

[00:12:44] He first started developing the character of Holden Caulfield in the early 1940s, before he was shipped off to fight in the Second World War.

[00:12:55] Salinger fought at D-Day, when the Allied forces invaded Northern France, and he was also part of the liberation groups at the Nazi concentration camps.

[00:13:07] This experience, as one can only imagine, deeply affected him, and he spent time in a mental hospital at the end of the war. 

[00:13:17] He was probably suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

[00:13:24] Throughout the Second World War, he kept his notebooks, with what was the first draft of The Catcher in the Rye, in his pocket. 

[00:13:33] From rushing onto the beach in Northern France through to liberating Paris, right through to walking through the gates of the concentration camp at Dachau and seeing the horrors that the Nazis had left behind, he kept his precious manuscript with him at all times.

[00:13:52] There are several theories that The Catcher in the Rye reflects the great sense of loss and alienation that Salinger himself felt during the war. 

[00:14:03] Through Caulfield, the book’s narrator, Salinger is echoing his own feelings, his own confusion about the world, and this is his own way of trying to make sense of what he had experienced in Europe during the Second World War.

[00:14:20] This is all theory though. 

[00:14:22] Salinger rarely gave any interviews, and he never talked in detail about Holden Caulfield.

[00:14:29] Knowing what we now know about his experience during the war, how he kept the text with him throughout, and how long he spent perfecting the text afterwards, perhaps it becomes a little more understandable why he was so possessive over its integrity, never wanting it to be altered or turned into a film or play.

[00:14:53] Now, let’s finish this episode by talking about some of the influences that this book has had on the English language.

[00:15:01] It’s worth pointing out that the language that Caulfield uses was the language used by American teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s - Salinger isn’t thought to have invented words himself, but rather by becoming the vocabulary of probably the most famous unhappy American teenager of the 20th century, the language of Holden Caulfield has been immortalised.

[00:15:29] For starters, Caulfield swears a lot.

[00:15:33] He writes “Goddam” 237 times - everything seems to be goddam this and goddam that.

[00:15:41] He uses “bastard” 58 times, “Chris sake” 31 times and he says “fuck” 6 times.

[00:15:50] Especially for more conservative parents, this was enough on its own to stop it being taught in schools.

[00:15:59] Other than the swear words, he uses the word “phoney” 42 times. To remind you, phoney means fake, not true, but Caulfield uses it in a more liberal sense, using it to describe almost anyone he doesn’t like.

[00:16:18] You might not hear many people using the word “phoney” now, but it is a word that will forever be associated with The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:16:28] And although some of the language and setting does feel a little dated, it does feel a little old, how Holden feels is as relevant to teenagers today as it was when it was published in 1951, and the book continues to be taught in schools throughout the English-speaking world.

[00:16:50] It continues to have its critics, and is added and removed from school curriculums depending on how liberal the governing body is, but tens of millions of schoolchildren still read it every single year.

[00:17:05] And no doubt it will remain as relevant in 50 or 100 years as it is now, and was 70 years ago.

[00:17:13] As teenagers grow up, become adults and have their own children, they want their children to experience the same feelings they had when they read this book. 

[00:17:24] No matter whether it’s a Californian in 1951 or a teenager from Madrid in 2021, there are many of the same insecurities, the same struggles to understand the world, and the same feelings of disappointment.

[00:17:40] For sure, teenagers in 2021 have many different concerns than teenagers did in 1951. 

[00:17:48] Whether we are talking about climate change or navigating the complex world of your own online image. 

[00:17:55] And in 1951, teenagers were growing up in a completely new world, a world that had just come out of two devastating wars, and was essentially a new slate, a tabula rasa, an open door.

[00:18:11] So, a lot has changed.

[00:18:13] But a lot hasn’t. 

[00:18:16] The transition from childhood to adulthood is a confusing time, and when it comes to a book that really captures the essence of what it is like, it is hard to find one that does a better job than The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on J. D. Salinger’s classic book, The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:43] If you are up for trying out a cult American book, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. 

[00:18:49] The language is quite colloquial, there is quite a lot of slang in it, but once you get the hang of how Caulfield speaks, I think you will find it quite manageable.

[00:19:00] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:04] Have you read The Catcher in the Rye, either in English or in translation? What did you think of it? Does it deserve its high praise?

[00:19:13] Let’s get the discussion started - you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:25] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the cult book by J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. 

[00:00:32] It is a book that is consistently considered as one of the finest novels of the 20th century, but has almost as many critics as it does admirers.

[00:00:44] It has been called a dangerous book, and is frequently listed as one of the most banned books in American classrooms. 

[00:00:54] It is even accused of being responsible for the murder of John Lennon, of Beatles fame, and of an assassination attempt on a US president.

[00:01:06] So, in this episode we are going to talk about the book itself, about its author, about why it is so important, and we’ll also look at the impact that it has had on the English language.

[00:01:21] This is actually a request from a great member of Leonardo English, an awesome guy from Spain called Pedro, so thank you Pedro for this request.

[00:01:30] And, the final administrative point that I should add is that you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy this episode. Indeed, if you haven’t read it, I hope listening to this episode might inspire you to do so.

[00:01:46] OK, without further ado let’s get started.

[00:01:52] On 6th December 1980, a 25-year-old former security guard named Mark Chapman took a flight from Honolulu, in Hawaii, to New York.

[00:02:05] On the morning of 8th December, he hung around outside the apartment block where John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been renting the penthouse.

[00:02:16] It wasn’t uncommon for fans to wait outside - although The Beatles had broken up 10 years before, John Lennon was still incredibly famous, and was still mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:02:32] At around 5pm, when Lennon and Yoko Ono were about to head out to the recording studio, Chapman approached The Beatle and asked him for his autograph. 

[00:02:44] Lennon obliged, he gave Chapman his autograph, he got into a limousine and went to the recording studio.

[00:02:53] At about 11pm later on that evening, John Lennon and Yoko Ono returned, tired from a long evening recording.

[00:03:02] As Lennon got out of the limousine, Chapman emerged from the shadows, pulled out a gun and shot him four times.

[00:03:12] Chapman calmly put the gun down as the rock star lay in front of him dying. 

[00:03:19] He didn’t try to run and hide. 

[00:03:21] Instead, he sat down and pulled out a book. Inside the book, he had written “This is my statement”.

[00:03:31] That book was J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:03:36] Now, there are all sorts of theories about why Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon. 

[00:03:43] The truth is that nobody seems to know for sure, not even Mark Chapman.

[00:03:48] But this book that he was holding, The Catcher in the Rye, was immediately blamed.

[00:03:54] Since its publication in 1951, 29 years before, critics had been saying that this was a dangerous book. They had warned that it was dangerous to read, and that it would provoke people to do bad things.

[00:04:11] With the murder of John Lennon, their worst fears had come true.

[00:04:16] But what, you might be asking yourself, what could possibly be so terrible about this book that people feared it so badly?

[00:04:26] Well, at first glance, perhaps not so much.

[00:04:30] The book is relatively short, it’s a couple of hundred pages long. 

[00:04:35] It is written in the form of a diary, narrated by a character called Holden Caulfield, who is a 16-year-old American boy disillusioned with life. 

[00:04:47] Caulfield has just been kicked out of an expensive private school. 

[00:04:53] He heads to New York and writes down what goes on over the course of a two-day period.

[00:05:00] It is written in what’s called a “stream of consciousness” style, as if the narrator was writing down his exact feelings at the moment he felt them.

[00:05:12] Caulfield is very much an anti-hero - he uses bad language, he lies, he is inconsistent, he doesn’t have the traditional attributes of a hero. 

[00:05:25] Indeed, almost everything that could possibly go wrong for Caulfield, goes wrong.

[00:05:31] And as readers, we aren’t really sure what to make of Caulfield, or of the book. In much of the previous American literary tradition, it was clear how you should feel about the characters in a novel.

[00:05:46] Some were good, and you should support them. Others were bad, and the fact that they were bad characters would mean that they wouldn’t succeed.

[00:05:55] Of course, this is a great simplification, but it often holds true.

[00:06:00] With The Catcher in the Rye, we aren’t sure what to think. 

[00:06:05] Some readers might read it and find Caulfield to be a terrible character, lying, fake himself, and not someone you would want to spend time with.

[00:06:15] While others might read it and see Caulfield to be the only person in the world who is speaking the truth.

[00:06:23] Another interesting aspect of the book is that there really isn’t a huge amount of development of Caulfield’s character. 

[00:06:31] In the literary tradition of the time there was often the idea that an anti-hero type of character would achieve some kind of redemption as the novel went on, that they would understand the world better, and they would develop as a character.

[00:06:49] But with The Catcher in the Rye, we really are left guessing - it is not clear in the slightest - if Holden Caulfield has learnt anything.

[00:06:59] All of this put together beautifully encapsulates the experience of being a teenager, especially that of a teenager in post-war America, someone who was trying to understand the world, struggling with it, and [as the book ends] still hasn’t reached any kind of conclusions.

[00:07:22] The unique narrative style, combined with the fact that it was immediately relatable to teenagers, meant that it started to appear in classrooms, as teachers used it with their students. 

[00:07:35] I can remember reading it while at school, and can vividly remember it being one of the books that everyone was very happy to read, because it was so relatable to the emotions the teenagers were feeling.

[00:07:49] But, not everyone was happy with the fact that it was being taught in schools.

[00:07:55] In 1960, 9 years after it was first published, an Oklahoma school teacher lost her job after she refused to stop teaching the book to her class of 16-year-olds.

[00:08:09] She appealed and got her job back, but on the condition that she stopped teaching this book.

[00:08:16] The criticism?

[00:08:18] That Holden Caulfield sets a bad example for teenagers, and that reading The Catcher in the Rye might mean that impressionable teenagers would behave in a similar way to the protagonist.

[00:08:32] Holden Caulfield smoked, he tried to order alcohol at a bar, despite being underage, he tried to hire a prostitute, he skipped school, he lied, he behaved in a way that was contrary to good American values.

[00:08:48] And so, so the argument goes, he was a bad example and teenagers shouldn’t read his story.

[00:08:55] If you have listened to the last episode, episode 183, on Banned Books, you will remember that we talked about some of the reasons that books are banned, and put it down to four main categories: political, sexual, moral, and religious.

[00:09:14] There is, of course, quite a lot of overlap between some of these categories, but the book we are talking about today, The Catcher in the Rye, is mostly objected to on moral grounds, that it would create a generation of teenagers with the moral compass of Holden Caulfield, that is, not much of a moral compass at all. 

[00:09:37] Although the book remained a controversial choice in American schools, it continued to fly off the shelves, it was sold and read in large quantities.

[00:09:48] And then, in 1980, it was seen as the inspiration for the murder of one of the most famous musicians in the world.

[00:09:57] Mark Chapman had said that he was inspired by Holden Caulfield, and said he had decided to kill John Lennon because he was a “phoney”.

[00:10:07] A “phoney” is a slang way to say that someone is fake, that they aren’t true to themselves, and Chapman said he believed that Lennon had turned into a phoney, and by killing him, he was preserving the original, non-phoney John Lennon for future generations.

[00:10:28] It wasn’t to be the only time that the book was involved in an assassination attempt.

[00:10:34] A year later, in 1981, a man named John Hinkley Jr tried to kill the American president Ronald Reagan, and the police later found a copy of The Catcher in The Rye in his hotel room. 

[00:10:49] He admitted that he was a fan of the book, but it was dismissed as not having played a role in his motivation to kill the US president. 

[00:10:59] After all, it was one of the best known books in the US, and had been read by tens of millions of Americans. If a few people who read the book turned out to have murderous ambitions, to want to kill people, that surely wasn’t the fault of the book.

[00:11:18] Now, the part of The Catcher in the Rye that we haven’t really spoken about at all yet is its author, J. D. Salinger.

[00:11:27] This is deliberate, I’ve put this part at the end on purpose, because J. D. Salinger did not enjoy attention. 

[00:11:35] Indeed, while other authors might enjoy the fame and fortune that writing a bestselling book might bring them, J.D Sallinger did not.

[00:11:47] Shortly after The Catcher in the Rye was published, Salinger essentially withdrew from public life. 

[00:11:54] He continued to write, but would very rarely publish his works.

[00:12:00] He reportedly wrote another 15 novels, but decided not to publish any of them, writing only for himself.

[00:12:08] He also fiercely resisted allowing anyone to make a film of his book. Obviously, this would have been a pretty easy way to earn a lot of money, but Salinger said no, he wouldn’t sell, no matter how much he was offered.

[00:12:25] But The Catcher in the Rye is inseparable from the life of J. D. Salinger, and the links between his own life, the writing of the book, and its protagonist, are fascinating.

[00:12:39] For starters, it took Salinger over 10 years to write the book. 

[00:12:44] He first started developing the character of Holden Caulfield in the early 1940s, before he was shipped off to fight in the Second World War.

[00:12:55] Salinger fought at D-Day, when the Allied forces invaded Northern France, and he was also part of the liberation groups at the Nazi concentration camps.

[00:13:07] This experience, as one can only imagine, deeply affected him, and he spent time in a mental hospital at the end of the war. 

[00:13:17] He was probably suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

[00:13:24] Throughout the Second World War, he kept his notebooks, with what was the first draft of The Catcher in the Rye, in his pocket. 

[00:13:33] From rushing onto the beach in Northern France through to liberating Paris, right through to walking through the gates of the concentration camp at Dachau and seeing the horrors that the Nazis had left behind, he kept his precious manuscript with him at all times.

[00:13:52] There are several theories that The Catcher in the Rye reflects the great sense of loss and alienation that Salinger himself felt during the war. 

[00:14:03] Through Caulfield, the book’s narrator, Salinger is echoing his own feelings, his own confusion about the world, and this is his own way of trying to make sense of what he had experienced in Europe during the Second World War.

[00:14:20] This is all theory though. 

[00:14:22] Salinger rarely gave any interviews, and he never talked in detail about Holden Caulfield.

[00:14:29] Knowing what we now know about his experience during the war, how he kept the text with him throughout, and how long he spent perfecting the text afterwards, perhaps it becomes a little more understandable why he was so possessive over its integrity, never wanting it to be altered or turned into a film or play.

[00:14:53] Now, let’s finish this episode by talking about some of the influences that this book has had on the English language.

[00:15:01] It’s worth pointing out that the language that Caulfield uses was the language used by American teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s - Salinger isn’t thought to have invented words himself, but rather by becoming the vocabulary of probably the most famous unhappy American teenager of the 20th century, the language of Holden Caulfield has been immortalised.

[00:15:29] For starters, Caulfield swears a lot.

[00:15:33] He writes “Goddam” 237 times - everything seems to be goddam this and goddam that.

[00:15:41] He uses “bastard” 58 times, “Chris sake” 31 times and he says “fuck” 6 times.

[00:15:50] Especially for more conservative parents, this was enough on its own to stop it being taught in schools.

[00:15:59] Other than the swear words, he uses the word “phoney” 42 times. To remind you, phoney means fake, not true, but Caulfield uses it in a more liberal sense, using it to describe almost anyone he doesn’t like.

[00:16:18] You might not hear many people using the word “phoney” now, but it is a word that will forever be associated with The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:16:28] And although some of the language and setting does feel a little dated, it does feel a little old, how Holden feels is as relevant to teenagers today as it was when it was published in 1951, and the book continues to be taught in schools throughout the English-speaking world.

[00:16:50] It continues to have its critics, and is added and removed from school curriculums depending on how liberal the governing body is, but tens of millions of schoolchildren still read it every single year.

[00:17:05] And no doubt it will remain as relevant in 50 or 100 years as it is now, and was 70 years ago.

[00:17:13] As teenagers grow up, become adults and have their own children, they want their children to experience the same feelings they had when they read this book. 

[00:17:24] No matter whether it’s a Californian in 1951 or a teenager from Madrid in 2021, there are many of the same insecurities, the same struggles to understand the world, and the same feelings of disappointment.

[00:17:40] For sure, teenagers in 2021 have many different concerns than teenagers did in 1951. 

[00:17:48] Whether we are talking about climate change or navigating the complex world of your own online image. 

[00:17:55] And in 1951, teenagers were growing up in a completely new world, a world that had just come out of two devastating wars, and was essentially a new slate, a tabula rasa, an open door.

[00:18:11] So, a lot has changed.

[00:18:13] But a lot hasn’t. 

[00:18:16] The transition from childhood to adulthood is a confusing time, and when it comes to a book that really captures the essence of what it is like, it is hard to find one that does a better job than The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on J. D. Salinger’s classic book, The Catcher in the Rye.

[00:18:43] If you are up for trying out a cult American book, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. 

[00:18:49] The language is quite colloquial, there is quite a lot of slang in it, but once you get the hang of how Caulfield speaks, I think you will find it quite manageable.

[00:19:00] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:04] Have you read The Catcher in the Rye, either in English or in translation? What did you think of it? Does it deserve its high praise?

[00:19:13] Let’s get the discussion started - you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:25] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]