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Cherished and Cursed: Toward a Social History of the Catcher in the Rye

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Cherished and Cursed:Towarda Social History of The Catcher in the Rye
STEPHEN

J. WHITFIELD

THE plot is brief:in 1949 or perhaps 1950, over the course of three days during the Christmas season, a sixteen-yearold takes a picaresque journey to his New YorkCity home from the third private school to expel him. The narratorrecounts his experiences and opinions from a sanitarium in California. A heavy smoker, Holden Caulfield claims to be already six feet, two inches tall and to have wisps of grey hair; and he wonders what happens to the ducks when the ponds freeze in winter. The novel was published on 16 July 1951, sold for $3.00, and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Within two weeks, it had been reprinted five times, the next month three more times-though by the third edition the jacket photographof the author had quietly disappeared. His book stayed on the bestseller list for thirty weeks, though never above fourth place.' Costing 75?, the Bantam paperback edition appeared in 1964. By 1981, when the same edition went for $2.50, sales still held steady, between twenty and thirty thousand copies per month, about a quarter of a million copies annually. In paperback the novel sold over three million copies between 1953 and 1964, climbed even higher by the 1980s, and continues to attract about as many buyers as it did in 1951. The durabilityof

The author appreciates the invitationof Professors Marc Lee Raphaeland Robert A. Gross to present an early version of this essay at the College of William & Mary, and also thanks ProfessorsPaul Boyer and John D. Ibson for their assistance. 1AdamMoss, "Catcher Comes of Age," Esquire, December 1981, p. 57; Jack Salzman, ed., intro. to New Essays on "The Catcher in the Rye" (New York:Cambridge UniversityPress, 1991), pp. 6, 7.

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