Teaching The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield and Adolescent Rebellion

Thursday, April 12, 2012
7:00–8:30 p.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Grace Elizabeth Hale
Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

Holden Caulfield is an unlikely rebel. The son of affluent parents, enrolled in (and expelled from) expensive prep schools, untouched by poverty or racism, he would seem to have it made in the booming 1950s. Yet he is estranged from his parents, teachers, and friends. For him the world is insincere and untrustworthy or, as he would say, “phony.” His downward spiral through “madman stuff” in Manhattan leaves him contemplating suicide.

Why? And why did his story resonate with so many white middle class kids that they made it an American classic? What was Holden rebelling against, and what does his rebellion tell us about America in the 1950s and 60s? A role model over half a century ago, is he one today?

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Assigned Readings

  1. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. (Any edition is fine.)
  2. "Introduction" and "Lost Children of Plenty: Growing Up as Rebel," from A Nation of Outsiders, by Grace Elizabeth Hale.
  3. "Introduction" and "On and Off the Road: The Outsider as Young Rebel," from Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970, by Morris Dickstein.
  4. "Books of the Times." The New York Times, July 16, 1951 by Nash K. Burger.

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