The Catcher in the Rye introduces Holden Caulfield, who ranks with Huckleberry Finn among the most celebrated adolescent heroes in American literary history. Indeed, the book is a pleasure to read: verbally witty, sardonic, ironic, sometimes sad and poignant, and insightful of young adults and the dilemmas sensitive people face in modern society. The sustained tone and characterization are a fine literary achievement, and the encounters of an adolescent boy unable to adapt to 1950s metropolitan New York upper-class society, commercial business, and exclusive schools occasionally provide uproarious humor. A memorable book with a memorable hero, The Catcher in the Rye is of major importance to post-World War II American history as well as to young adult readers.
Within ten years of publication, the book sold 1 1/2 million copies, was translated into thirty languages, and, according to a survey of leading professors of American literature, was one of the five most influential books by an American author published after World War II.
The book is not without controversy, having been one of the books most frequently censored from school and public libraries, both for its prolific use of profanity and its expression of what many people believe to be an antisocial attitude.
When read more carefully, with a knowledge of its sophisticated literary allusions and its foundation in literary traditions, The Catcher in the Rye is more than a novel about an adolescent unable to accept social norms and public values. It is a serious analysis and criticism of mid-twentieth-century American society and of adult, as well as teen-age, mores and selfishness. The novel offers an ironic treatment of the Bildungsroman, a literary tradition of stories about idealistic, often impractical and romantic, youths struggling to grow up and adjust to the adult world. The Catcher in the Rye also reflects a whole body of modern literature that expresses the alienated sensibility of artists who have had difficulty adjusting to the often vulgar customs and values of commercial urban civilization. Within this social criticism, the book indirectly celebrates the values of childhood innocence, the loyalty of children to each other, and spiritual purity.