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The Catcher In The Rye: A Book For Conspiracy Theorists?

In my high school English class one of the students noticed that there was a seemingly blank page after the final page of text in The Catcher in the Rye. At the bottom of this page in grey ink so faint that it was almost impossible to read without holding it up to a light was the sentence, 'Sometimes it's best just to leave.' We found that page in about half of the books in my class; the other half did not have the page.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye plays a central role in Conspiracy Theory, a movie about a man who the government subjects to a mind control experiment. After the experiment, the man becomes an avid conspiracy theorist and buys, but does not read, every copy of The Catcher In The Rye that he can find.

Some conspiracy theorists believe that The Catcher In The Rye is a ‘trigger’ that activates covert government operatives. After Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, he calmly opened up The Catcher In The Rye and began reading as he waited to be arrested. John Hinckley, the man who attempted to kill Ronald Reagan, also possessed a copy of The Catcher In The Rye. Even though they fail to make their case, advocates of the single gunman theory repeatedly claim that Lee Harvey Oswald read Salinger’s novel before he assassinated JFK. Fearing its impact on young people, many high schools across the country have banned The Catcher In The Rye from their curricula. Even so, since its publication in 1951, The Catcher In The Rye has sold 65 million copies____ 250 thousand copies every year. As an author of five novels that have barely sold a total of 65 copies, I wondered if there actually are 65 million conspiracy theorists out there and, if so, would they be interested in buying any of my books.

During World War II, J.D. Salinger interrogated and reprogrammed captured Nazis for the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. Salinger was an intelligence officer in the Counter Intelligence Corps. After the war, Salinger developed the de-nazification program used by the Army on all Nazis that the Americans released and returned to civilian life. I wondered: could Salinger’s formula for converting German Nazis into American agents be responsible for the longevity and popularity of his novel?

The Catcher In The Rye is the narrative of Holden Caulfield, a teenager, who, after getting kicked out of a Pennsylvania prep school, wanders about New York City, indulging in a series of adventures involving a prostitute and her pimp while getting drunk, feeling lonely, visiting his younger sister and interviewing a former teacher. Caulfield is alienated from society. His outlook on life is dark and his attitude is negative. An isolated outsider, Holden Caulfield is a ‘rebel without a cause’. Caulfield believes society is superficial, life empty and human values meaningless. Most importantly, moral behavior does not rule society. The Catcher In The Rye gives America’s disaffected youth someone to identify with, someone just like them, someone who can articulate how they feel. And Salinger offers a remedy for their dissaffection.

I had a flash. Like Salinger, I, too, had a personal interviews with a former Nazi and a fascist. Just then the secrets contained in The Catcher In The Rye began to unfold and I began to entertain some hope that these secrets might possibly help me introduce my books to some of J.D. Salinger’s sixty-five million readers.