Why was The Catcher in the Rye Banned in High Schools?
Before proceeding with my Catcher in the Rye review, I feel it necessary to answer a common question: Why was The Catcher in the Rye banned in high schools?
- Let’s begin with the use of profanity. Christians objected to the repetitive use of the Lord’s name in vain. Others objected to the use of the f-word.
- Mature situations abound. A high school student, one with whom the reader sympathizes, who smokes incessantly, drinks copious amounts of alcohol, and discusses sex frequently scares parents. In addition to these incidents that run through the novel, Holden Caufield hires a prostitute–albeit for talking–gets beat up by a pimp, and has a mental breakdown.
- Salinger presents a negative outlook on life, depressing readers, and giving impressionable minds bad ideas.
I am not in favor of banning The Catcher in the Rye, in high school. The reasons for The Catcher in the Rye being banned in high schools does, however, warrant a "thumbs down" for assigning it to high school students. Despite the belief by some teachers that they know what’s good for kids, I still feel parents have a right to challenge books that are taught, and too many challenge the teaching of this one to make it worth the trouble. I have put it on outside reading lists and many students have read it, along with their parents.
I have taught other challenged books, Of Mice and Men comes to mind, with much success (I’m guessing a story about two migrant farm workers swearing, drinking, and frequenting prostitutes just doesn’t hit home like a teenage boy drinking, swearing, and seeing a prostitute).
The Catcher in the Rye Warning Letter
As already mentioned, The Catcher in the Rye may not be appropriate for all students. I recommend sending home a letter to have signed by a parent or guardian before beginning. Be sure to have an alternate novel to give those students who choose not to read it. The letter should include the following:
- A respectful greeting
- A summary of the novel
- A statement of its literary worth
- The acknowledgment of coarse language and situations and an answer to the question: Why was The Catcher in the Rye Banned in high schools
- A literary explanation of why there is coarse language and situations
- An encouragement for the parents to read the novel and discuss it with their children
- The option of reading another literary work, with no penalty
- A way to contact you with questions or problems
- The deadline for opting out
Ultimately, it’s the parents’ and the student’s decision whether or not to read the novel. Be sure to emphasize there is no penalty for choosing not to read. In addition, don’t let them know what the other novel is. The decision should be based solely on whether or not the novel contains offensive material that would detract from the learning experience.
Lesson Plans for The Catcher in the Rye: Write a Catcher in the Rye Review
This Catcher in the Rye review is part of my lesson plans for The Catcher in the Rye. Have each student do the following after reading the book:
- Write a brief summary of the novel, 100-200 words.
- Write a brief Catcher in the Rye analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
- List teaching ideas for the novel, 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list. Feel free to include lesson plans for The Catcher in the Rye.
- Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.
The Catcher in the Rye Review: A Summary
Holden Caufield writes his tale from a private home in California where he is being psychoanalyzed. His narrative begins on the Saturday before school lets out at Pencey Prep. Holden has been kicked out of Pencey for failing every class except English. He gets in a fight with his roommate and decides to go to New York for a few days before going home.
Holden has severe psychological problems: he’s immature, isolated, longs for companionship, hates everybody, cries frequently, smokes a lot, and is having a mental breakdown. Despite his declaration of independence, he goes to great lengths to find companionship. While in New York, he meets three older women at a night club, hires a prostitute to talk to, gets beat up by a pimp, goes to a blues bar, goes on a date, meets an old friend, gets really drunk, breaks into his own house, stays at a former teacher’s house, wakes up believing his teacher made a sexual advance, and goes to the zoo.
The cause of his troubles is his unwillingness to grow up and his desire to protect children from losing their innocence.
(Check out these chapter summaries of The Catcher in the Rye for a more detailed summary.)
The Catcher in the Rye Review: An Analysis
A Catcher in the Rye analysis shows the novel is much more than the tale of a wayward teen. When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, you may want to focus on the following:
- Symbolism: The red hunting hat, Allie’s baseball mitt, the ducks in the pond at central park, the Museum of Natural History, and the catcher in the rye all stand for something.
- Characterization: The novel’s protagonist is developed subtly through Holden’s thoughts, actions, and words.
- Point of View: A critical part in the novel’s success is the first person point of view employed. Holden narrates the events, yet does not understand their significance.
Lesson Plans for The Catcher in the Rye
It doesn’t matter how good the book is if you can’t teach it.
- Adapt this teaching characterization lesson plan from Romeo and Juliet.
- What makes this novel so popular is its humor. Use this analyzing humor in literature lesson plan to help students recognize how Salinger creates humor.
- The Catcher in the Rye provides opportunity for teaching the difference between tone and mood. Note how the tone is ironic, cynical, and humorous. The mood is depressing.
This post is part of the series: Novels for High School
- Novels in High School: Brave New World Analysis and Review
- Novels for High School: The Old Man and the Sea Book Review
- Novels for High School Students: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- A Review of The Catcher in the Rye for High School Teachers with Lesson Plans for The Catcher in the Rye
- Red Badge of Courage Review with Lesson Plan