Catcher in the Rye: Pre-reading

Entertainment, politics and technologies of the 1950s; background information about J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye

  • Politics: Eisenhower

  • Technology: Automobiles, medicine, the atom bomb and the transistor radio 

  • The Atom Bomb 

  • Rise of the Teen 

  • J.D. Salinger

  • The Catcher in the Rye


Eisenhower: Warrior and President

"As the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe during World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the forces that fought a desperate struggle against the Axis powers. His planning and management of the pivotal D-Day invasion of Normandy spelled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. Following the war, Eisenhower went on to become chief of staff of the US Army and, after a short spell as President of Columbia University, commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe during the early days of the Cold War.

His wartime experiences made Eisenhower a national hero and a formidable candidate for the presidency, even though he mostly kept his actual political views a carefully guarded secret while serving in the military. Both Democrats and Republicans tried to woo him to run for president; when he finally did throw his hat into the ring in 1952, he did so as a moderate Republican. And he won his election easily. When he arrived in the White House in January 1953, he brought to the job the most formidable knowledge of international affairs of any president in American history. He needed it. The country was already mired in a stalemated war in Korea and seemed on the verge of a much more cataclysmic nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union itself. Both sides were armed to the teeth with the most destructive weapons in the history of mankind, and many feared that war between the superpowers was all but inevitable and that it might literally destroy the world.

A man who had spent much of his life concerned with war, Eisenhower led a country that wanted peace. Strong but cautious, he maneuvered through the perils of one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War. He managed a series of significant crises, including serious confrontations with the Soviets and a war in the Middle East. He repeatedly rejected advice to militarize the nation or to take rash actions that might have led to nuclear war. He did make his share of mistakes; CIA-orchestrated coups against elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, for example, are now widely viewed as black marks in American history. But for the most part, Ike's military background and vast experience on the world stage served him well as he steered the country along the path of peace." 

(All information taken directly from

34th President of the United States


The automobile: 

During the 1950s the automobile changed how and where people lived and worked. To read more about it follow the link.


Vaccines! Much of protocal from treating and preventing diseases and other illnesses that we take for granted was new in the 1950s.

The Atom Bomb:

Wars and the threat of them would never be the same with this in the hands of the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Transistor Radio: 

Music and the way people, especially young people listened to it was rapidly changing and expanding. 

To explore all these topics more in depth please follow the link: 


Teenagers gained recognition and power as a specific group in terms of econmic interests and culture. 

Areas of interest include: 



Dating and sex practices

To learn more follow the link or read our classroom posters:

1950s date day

"J. D. Salinger passed away January 27, 2010; he was 91. The famously-secretive author rose to prominence in the 1950's forThe Catcher in the Rye, a book that has resonated with every generation of youth since. He is more celebrated in literary circles for his shorter stories, many of which centered on the Glass and Caulfield families and explored deeper religious and philosophical territory than his sole novel.

The special place awarded him in the world of American literature was shunned by Salinger. He never wanted to be troubled at all, in fact, hiding from the world with a vigor that goes beyond mere reclusiveness. His few public statements make it clear that he wanted to be left alone, focused only on the few people he brought into his life. He allowed that his published works would be absorbed by readers, but he never wanted the scalpels of criticism and devotion that followed.

The Future

J. D. Saliner spent the last 50 years literally telling the world to leave him alone, but his death is likely to cause his life to be thrust into the spotlight again. We will hear stories of his unsavory relationships and his extreme idiosyncracies repeated, elaborated, and unveiled anew. Family and friends have not always bowed to his wishes for privacy, but this wave of exposure will be unlikely to dim the devotion of his admirers.

With just one novel and three short story collections in print, it is surprising to discover that Salinger was not much more prolific than this. A total of 22 other short stories were published and never made it into popular books, but not much more work is known. Rumors claim that he continued writing over his later decades, and his representatives admitted as much in a court deposition in the 1980's, but this work has never been exposed. His last magazine story, Hapworth 16, 1924, was to become a book a decade ago but even this never appeared.

What will become of these underpublished and unpublished stories? The Salinger estate could certainly publish them at any time, but this seems unlikely. The most probably course is a flood of biography followed by a collection of the published books, perhaps with Hapworth added. We might see the uncollected stories appear as well, but the unknown writing will likely remain under wraps for decades; one rumor suggests a 40-year wait." 

Taken directly from

The Catcher in the Rye, a novel narrated by main character and hero Holden Caulfield, is the story of Holden's life in the few days after being expelled from his Pennsylvania prep school. Published in 1951 by J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye has been banned more times than you want to count by zealous parents and educators. Not that anybody's surprised by this (because of the profanity, sex, alcohol abuse, prostitution – need we go on?), but interestingly, it's also frequently used as part of high school English classes.

With more than 60 million copies sold to date, it's one of the world's top sellers (accordingly, it's been translated into many languages, including Russian, Spanish, German, and Japanese).

The Catcher in the Rye is close to J.D. Salinger's heart; he has never allowed it to be produced as a film.
A lot of mystery and controversy surrounds J.D. Salinger. It seems he stopped publishing his work just when he was peaking as an author, and since then has been essentially a social recluse, granting no interviews and making no public appearances whatsoever. Some people think he's sort of a Holden Caulfield himself.

The Catcher in the Rye ended up as an emblem of counterculture in the 1950s and 60s – a symbol of alienation and isolation for the disillusioned and restless post-war generation. Salinger's own isolation from society only amplifies the mystery and allure of this important book.