Within two weeks of its 1951 release, J.D. Salinger‘s novel rocketed to Number 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. The book- which explores three days in the life of a troubled 16-year-old boy- has been a “favorite of censors” ever since its publication.
In 1960, school administrators at a high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, fired an English teacher for assigning the book to an 11th-grade class. He was later reinstated after winning his appeal.
Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.
According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the 13th most frequently challenged book from 1990–2000. It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005.
Here’s a breakdown of just the current dacade alone:
- 2010 – Challenged and or banned for offensive language, being sexually explicit and unsuited to age group.
- 2009 – Challenged in the Big Sky high School in Missoula, Montana.
- 2006 – Challenged for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group.
- 2005 – Challenged, but retained as an assigned reading in the Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine.
- 2002 – Removed in South Carolina as a “filthy, filthy book”. Challenged and retained in Georgia due to profanity.
- 2001 – Challenged repeatedly because of complaints that the book contained sex, violence, and profanity.
The challenges generally begin with vulgar language, citing the novel’s use of words like “goddamn”, with more general reasons including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, Holden’s being a poor role model, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity.
Often, the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself. Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher who faced objections after assigning the novel in her class, noted that the challengers “are being just like Holden … They are trying to be catchers in the rye.”
A reverse effect has been that this incident caused people to put themselves on the waiting list to loan the novel, when there were none before.
Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon, was carrying the book when he was arrested immediately after the murder and referred to it in his statement to police shortly thereafter. John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was also reported to have been obsessed with the book.