The internet is full of crazy conspiracy theories about all kinds of topics. But today, we’re looking at some that pertain to the novel current 10th graders are reading: The Catcher in the Rye.
Published in 1951, the now infamous book by J.D. Salinger was instantly banned in hundreds of schools in the U.S. for its vulgar language and rebellious tone. Additionally, the main character, Holden Caulfield, was (and still is) linked to a variety of serial killers. As you can imagine, conspiracy theories abound. Here are some of our favorites:
Created to trigger murderers
While it sounds pretty far fetched, this theory is the most popular one. John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, had a particularly creepy association with the novel. After he shot and killed the Beatles co-founder, he reportedly opened up the book and began to read it before he was arrested. In fact, he was even going to change his name to Holden Caulfield days before the murder, but he wasn’t able to finish the forms.
The book is also linked to John Hinkley, Jr. (Ronald Reagan’s failed assassin), Robert John Bardo (the man who murdered Rebecca Schaeffer and stalked Madonna), John F. Kennedy’s killer, Martin Luther King’s killer, Charles Manson, the Boston Strangler, the Zodiac killer, the Washington Sniper, and Ted Bundy–who were all said to have had copies of The Catcher in the Rye with them or in their apartments. This leads conspiracy theorists to believe that this novel was an assassination trigger.
The CIA used it for mind control
This conspiracy theory came to a popular rise after the release of the 1997 movie, Conspiracy Theory, starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Gibson’s character has an obsession with the novel, and the film quickly intensifies when the viewers learn that his character is involved with the CIA and his mind is being controlled by the controversial MK-Ultra program.
The idea was that the CIA had implanted codes in The Catcher in the Rye that brainwashed them to do whatever the government wanted. Leaked documents from the CIA confirmed that during the MK-Ultra mind control program, once patients heard a certain set of numbers or words in a certain order, they would immediately be hypnotized and follow every command they received.
Holden Caulfield’s character is based on the author
People who have read the novel know that the main character, Holden, is a troubled guy. He talks about his experience in a mental hospital and deals with trauma and loss from the death of his brother. Many people believe that Salinger put a lot of himself in the protagonist, particularly the pain he experienced while at war.
In the book Salinger, author David Shields writes, “Although the reader is unlikely to know the extent to which Salinger’s Post-traumatic Stress Disorder informed Catcher, the book is a worldwide phenomenon because he has buried that trauma inside Holden.” So, it turns out, this one may not be a conspiracy theory after all.
Schools unbanned the novel to corrupt the youth
This theory is highly debatable, especially considering that the American Library Association reported that, even in 2009, The Catcher in the Rye was one of the top ten most frequently banned books in schools and school libraries. Maybe it’s the parents who are still complaining about the use of profane language? (Bannedlibrary.com shares reports from 1960 til 2010, citing instances of parental attempts to ban the book due to language.)
So, why would teachers assign it then? To control our minds, to follow Holden’s stereotypical, rebellious teen attitude? This seems pretty unbelievable.
As you can see, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding The Catcher in the Rye, but it’s a great novel and definitely worth the read. Make sure to check it out and let us know what you think by commenting below! 🙂