When I first read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I was a freshman in high school. I remember being exhilarated; here was Holden Caulfield, a clearly rebellious young man raging against conformity and phoniness - things that I had never quite given those exact names but now I could because of this book. I was excited when we finally read it for class in junior year and I could witness my classmates discovering this book for the first time; some with similar exhilaration and others with disgust. I have reread it several times after that and while my enthusiasm for the book has cooled somewhat, I can still remember fondly the spark that it lit in me when I read it for the first time.
My story is not unique; many people from diverse backgrounds have their own Catcher in the Rye stories. Perhaps because so many people have at one point seen themselves as the spiritual kin of Holden Caulfield is the reason that so much of American culture has been shaped by The Catcher in the Rye. Any piece of fiction (or even non-fiction) that has at its center a young adult dissatisfied with his or her life and the society he or she is part of will inevitably draw comparison to Catcher. Holden’s desire for genuineness and the longing to have a true kinship with someone, anyone really, is still a prevalent theme, even more so with the rise of Internet culture where social media give the average consumer countless methods to bare their souls. The influence of Catcher also clearly extends beyond the borders of the United States since 65 million copies have been sold worldwide.
Though Catcher’s legacy is unquestionable, the book does seem to lose some impact on today’s youth since many students may have been exposed to the spiritual children of Catcher long before they will read the book for school or elsewhere. Catcher was essentially the first young adult novel, or at least the first book to feature a teenager who actually spoke and behaved like one. When it was first published, nothing like this book had ever existed and of course, it hit the reading public like a storm. Now, so many lesser imitations of Catcher populate bookshelves today that it’s hard to see what’s so special about Holden Caulfield. Though Salinger himself was mostly inaccessible and thus no one knew what he thought of his own legacy, Holden probably would have been happy that he helped give a voice to countless young people, saving them from completely falling off the cliff of adulthood.