Friday, October 23, 2009

On Censorship of Catcher in the Rye *REVISITED*

The first blog post I ever published was titled, like this one, On Censorship of Catcher in the Rye and was uploaded on April 26, 2008. Since then, I have changed significantly as a person and as a blogger. That first post now comes off as naive, ignorant and poorly-written. As a result, I felt obligated to revisit the topic of the censorship of that book, while my position on the matter has not changed, my reasons for opposing censorship have. At that time, I thought of Holden as a “free-spirit”, while I could identify with him, I lacked the maturity to understand him.

Fear and Misunderstanding: Why Catcher is Challenged and Why That’s Wrong

You call yourself a Christian, but you’re an atheist, a communist, and a smut peddler. Why do you insist on having children read four-letter words in school? Why do you want to fill their minds with trash? Why do you want to destroy America’s children? ~ Anonymous

The great majority of challenges to Catcher in the Rye condemn its use of profanity. Other attempts to censor it are based off Catcher dealing with taboo themes. Throughout its entire history, the book was constantly challenged, in both its literary merit, appropriateness for children and its dealing with such taboo themes.

Rye_catcher In 1978 a campaign to remove the book from Washington English Classes was held. The campaign stated that a woman counted 785 profanities throughout the novel. She proceeded to stat that the book was part of a “Communist [brainwashing] plot in which a lot of people are used and may not even be aware of it”. This is clearly a slippery slope, meant to cause a hysterical reaction from its audience to gain unwarranted support.

People tend to think that challenges against Catcher in the Rye have ceased or waned in the 21st Century. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 1997, then 16-year-old Kimberly Gordon made efforts to have the novel removed from her school’s required reading list. She objected to the novel’s use of profane language and taboo themes. In addition, she denounced the book for its “lack of literary value”. She lost her attempt to have the book removed, but her case brings up moral questions.

The sad truth of the matter is that people like Kimberly Gordon fail to see past the cursing to see the deeper meaning beneath them. They take the novel at face value and miss out on the point. While she had every right to refrain from reading the book, her decision to attempt to remove the book from reading lists shows that she believed the book to be inappropriate for her peers. By asking for the novel to be removed from reading-lists, she imposes her own perception of the book upon others and limits the intellectual freedom of other children and their parents.

Intellectual Freedom 

The frequent attempts to ban The Catcher in the Rye show us that the censors do not want the novel to be read by the public. By this, the censors are imposing their own misguided morals upon others. This in itself is immoral. While the censors have every right to refrain from viewing offensive material, they have no right to limit the ability of others to access this material. They cannot decide for others what is or is not appropriate.

The prevention of people from accessing any material is severely damaging to intellectual freedom and the open exchange of ideas. By forcing a person to lose access to information, the mindset and thoughts of that person are locked within the realm that he already knows. When that person cannot expand beyond what he already knows, he becomes ignorant of other truths. When a censor bans a book, he is locking important truths away from entire communities. Thus, individuals within these communities lose the freedom to explore such truths and ideas.

Misinterpreted and Misconstrued: Why Maturity is Needed

I recently read The Catcher in the Rye for a second time. The novel was far more meaningful for me with this second reading and brought attention to my own personal flaws. Since then, I IMG_1726 have brought my own relationships and way of life under serious scrutiny. I clearly misinterpreted the book on my first read-through and that misinterpretation has been destructive to my social interaction. By initially idolizing Holden as a champion of freedom and authenticity I jeopardized every relationship that I had with my peers.

So that is why maturity is needed to understand The Catcher in the Rye. If students approach the book without the life-experiences needed to interpret the novel correctly, they will only find themselves in social chaos and loss. Yet, if interpreted as Salinger intended it, The Catcher in the Rye can be an enlightening novel that draws attention to the painful social-lives of adolescents. I was profoundly affected by my second read-through of the book, and upon understanding it, I embarked on a painful journey of self-scrutiny. Reading through The Catcher in the Rye can serve as a catalyst for self-improvement. However, if the reader lacks the needed maturity, then the novel will only serve as an agent of self-destruction.

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