In Cold Fear

The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character

Pamela Hunt Steinle

“Steinle’s examination of the controversies around Salinger’s 1951 novel is timely. The essential issue is intriguing. Enthusiastically recommended to readers at all levels.”  —Choice

In Cold Fear examines the censorship controversies over J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as a cultural debate occurring across America, from 1954 to the present. Catcher presents a narrative in which adolescent embrace of American ideals of individualism and egalitarianism leads to criticism and rejection of dominant postwar social practices—a narrative as threatening to some adults as it is heartening to others. Attempts to remove Catcher from high schools as an “un-American” text have generated continuous and extensive controversy, distinguishing it as one of the most frequently taught postwar novels—and the most frequently censored.

Treating Catcher as a cultural Rorschach test, In Cold Fear tracks debate discourse in open-ended interviews, public media, editorial letters, in school board and community meetings in Alabama, California, New Mexico, and Virginia. Debate participants expressed common agreement with Salinger’s critique of postwar American life but divided over whether adolescents should be either exposed to or protected from this perspective. The peculiar angst of the debate is explained by participants’ articulation of a shrinking of the American spirit: a declining vision of American exceptionalism, recognition of social powerlessness, and fearfulness of an uncertain American future rooted in the threat of nuclear annihilation. In Cold Fear provides historical post-holes for understanding how differing audiences interpreted Catcher and offers a suggestive context for understanding the contemporary anxieties of America’s “troubled teens.”

Pamela Hunt Steinle is associate professor in the American Studies Department at California State University, Fullerton.

Aug 2000
Literary Criticism
192 pp.  6 x 9

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