J.D. Salinger's Influence

Next to the acerbic Holden Caulfield, today's boyish literary icons—the wizard with Coke-bottle glasses, the vampire with an abstinence agenda—look like a bunch of phony morons. The 16-year-old protagonist of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye  was a world-weary and tortured soul trapped in the body of a prep-school student, and his shiftless romp around New York City is required reading for the American teenager. But his influence has extended far beyond the schoolhouse. Here are six realms that Caulfield's piercing wit has penetrated in the 59 years he's been with us:

Crime. Mark David Chapman, the 25-year-old assassin of John Lennon, was arrested clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and had penned "This is my statement" inside the book. Chapman was a former mental patient from Honolulu, where he worked as a security guard, attempted suicide twice, and tried to legally change his name to Holden Caulfield. He later explained in a handwritten letter to The New York Times that "this extraordinary book holds many answers" and that "all of my efforts will be devoted toward" getting people to read it. Other crimes have since used the book as a touchstone; John W. Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, was also said to have a special fascination with the book.

Slang. Catcher in the Rye is to modern youth-speak what Dante's Divine Comedy was to 14th-century Italian; what Huckleberry Finn  was to the Reconstruction-era South. Written in the 1950s slangy vernacular of its protagonist, Catcher remains a historical linguistic record of postwar colloquialism. Some of Holden's trademark patois was lastingly absorbed into everyday speech—terms such as "screw up," "moron" and, of course, his liberal use of profanity. Some slang terms have faded as relics of the '40s and '50s—fewer kids these days use "lousy" as a term of scorn.

Film. The book itself was famously banned from ever becoming a movie, and Salinger also banned the use of his name in the film version of Field of Dreams, the book version of which he has appeared in as a character. In the movie, James Earl Jones instead plays Terence Mann, a prickly and reclusive author who represents a fictionalized version of Salinger. Beyond direct (or thinly veiled) references, Salinger's Caulfield has inspired a slew of "disaffected teen" or "coming of age" movies, from 1955's Rebel Without a Cause  through 2009's Adventureland.

Theater. Musicals (Next to Normal) and dramas (Six Degrees of Separation) alike make allusions to the novel, but the latter contains one of the most memorable. The play is suffused with Catcher references, but the biggest comes in a masterful monologue (later delivered onscreen by Will Smith) in which protagonist Paul says that Holden's tale "mirrors like a fun-house mirror and amplifies like a distorted speaker one of the great tragedies of our times: the death of the imagination."

Satire. One of The Onion's most enduringly humorous pieces was a 2005 homage to Caulfield: it centered on a 38-year-old man who decides to conclude his lifelong quest to "find himself." From the piece: "The search initially showed great promise, with Speth's early discovery of his uncle's old Doors records and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Over the next two decades, however, the 'leads just petered out.' Although Speth searched in a wide variety of places—including the I Ching, a tantric-sex manual, and a course in chakrology—he uncovered nothing."

Books. 60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye. It's practically tradition: Just like Gone With the Wind saw sequels, prequels and send-ups (remember Carol Burnett's "Went With the Wind"?), Salinger's marquee work was a source of inspiration. Last summer, Swedish author John David California wrote what he billed a "literary commentary on Catcher and the relationship between Holden and Salinger" in this "unauthorized sequel" to the book. In his version, Holden is a 76-year-old resident of a nursing home, where he goes by Mr. C, and his adored younger sister, Phoebe, is a drug-addled mental patient. Luckily for readers who'd rather not see Catcher thusly sullied, a federal judge prohibited its publication in the United States.

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