This video from American Masters: Salinger features writers, cultural critics, academics, actors, and friends of J.D. Salinger discussing the importance of The Catcher in the Rye and its lasting impact on American thought and culture.
1. Instruct students to read the background essay, watch the video and answer the discussion questions.
2. Then present the following questions to your students:
What are some of the ways people in the video describe J.D. Salinger’s work?
How did his writing impact their lives?
Do you have a favorite book or writer?
Have you ever felt strongly about a book (or writer) in the ways described in this video? Encourage students to respond in an open classroom discussion. Note: If some students have difficulty thinking of a book, open the comparison up to include movies, artwork, music, comic books, video games, etc.
3. Then, ask students to watch the video again. As they watch the video, students should keep in mind the book (or other creative work) they shared in the open discussion and select a quote from the video that relates to how they feel about it (encourage them to select a creative work other than The Catcher in the Rye).
4. Tell students to divide into small groups and discuss the quotes they selected.
5. Pass out the Adapted Quote Student Organizer. Tell students to think about the quote related to the book (or creative work) they mentioned and re-write the quote to fit their selection. Then, instruct students to write a short essay using their adapted quote as a topic sentence to describe the impact of the book (or other creative work) on their lives.
Note: The Impact of WWII media gallery provides information that will help students to better understand this essay.
"My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book," Salinger said, "and it was a great relief telling people about it."
Well, not at first. The Catcher in the Rye, the greatest antiestablishment book of all time and one of the biggest bestsellers in history, almost didn’t get published. A work that survived the worst horrors of World War II nearly got edited to hell in the jungles of the New York publishing world.
Salinger carried the first six chapters with him on the beaches of Normandy and into the Hürtgen Forest, through the concentration camp, and into the psychiatric ward. Throughout the war he carried the novel in his imagination. It sustained his mind through the unsustainable and bore his heart through the unbearable. It stood between him and the cliff.
The narrative—Salinger’s only novel—is told in the first-person voice of Holden Caulfield. That voice is Salinger, direct and unfiltered by the artifice of third-person camouflage. It’s his life, his thoughts, his feelings, his rage, his big beautiful middle finger to the phonies of the world.
Ten years of agony to get it all down on paper.
I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
Back in 1940 Salinger had written a note to Whit Burnett, saying that he was working on a "longer, autobiographical piece." He’d already written four short stories about Holden, considered writing a play about him—with child star Margaret O’Brien as Phoebe—and later told Hemingway that he wanted to play Holden himself.
I started imitating one of those guys in the movies. In one of those musicals. I hate the movies like poison, but I get a bang imitating them....All I need’s an audience. I’m an exhibitionist.
It makes perfect sense: the book is a 214-page soliloquy. In 1944 Salinger told Burnett that he had six Holden Caulfield stories, but he wanted to save them for the novel he was writing, and that he now wanted to take his stories, all written in the third person, and use them as the basis for a novel narrated in the first person. That way, the prose would have a more immediate, personal feel. While he was still in Europe, Salinger wrote the first short story narrated by Holden himself, the real beginning of The Catcher in the Rye, called “I’m Crazy.”
Describe two or three ways the subjects in this video describe the value of J.D. Salinger’s work—specifically The Catcher in the Rye.
Using the testimonials presented in this video as evidence, describe how Salinger felt about his work.
In this video, A.E. Hotchner says of Salinger, "He sort of became the Howard Hughes of his day." What is he talking about? Use information from the video to support your answer.
Note for teachers: Try to help your students deduce who Howard Hughes was and why he's referenced in this clip using details from the video. You may need to include additional infomation to support this question.
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