Most Banned Book of the 20th Century
No website about banned books would be complete without an examination of the most banned book of the 20th century. Which one holds that honor? “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.
In case you never had to read this book in high school, here’s a brief synopsis. Holden Caulfield is a cynical adolescent who narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today To give you a feel for the language, here’s one sample paragraph: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” He also makes generous use of the “G-D” cuss word.
Reasons for banning the book were numerous (Keep in mind; this was the 1950s when the censorship began). The afore-mentioned language was one reason. But there was far more than that. There was the fact that Holden was skeptical about most of the institutions that were respected in his day, including organized religion and law enforcement. There’s the fact that a prostitute is seen in a positive light. There is the outright rebellious attitude that Holden seems to exhibit.
Today, though, the book is more accepted. Why? Because Holden’s attitude was ahead of his time. It’s much more in line with the thinking and attitudes of young people in the 21st century. Most youth are skeptical about the very things that Holden was–and more accepting of the off scour of society (such as the prostitute) than they were in the 1950s.
Most of all, “The Catcher in the Rye” transcends politics. It’s enjoyed by liberals and conservatives alike. Liberals like it because of its emphasis on questioning our traditional institutions. Conservatives like it because it frowns on letting the government authorities dig too much into our personal lives.
Oh, it still has the foul language. But “Catcher,” while much censored in the 20th century, seems to have found its home in the 21st century.