The Catcher in the Rye

Disclaimer: No spoilers, but this review will discuss the premise and themes of the book. If you wish to go in blind, as I did, I suggest not reading.

The Catcher in the Rye is the quintessential book on teenage angst. Written by JD Salinger and published in 1951, this Great American Novel follows the escapades of antihero Holden Caulfield in New York City over three days.

It is notable for:

  • selling over 65 million copies
  • being the most censored book in American schools and libraries from 1961-1982
  • the reclusive nature of its author
  • association with the murder of John Lennon

Catcher was ahead of its time. Nonconformist icon Holden Caulfield foreshadowed the likes of James Dean, rock ‘n roll and the adolescent backlash against conservative 1950s American society. Not surprisingly this is the era the book’s popularity exploded.

Holden Caulfield narrates.  An intelligent but troubled rich kid, Holden is expelled from his fourth school after flunking all his subjects but English.  Not expected home by his parents until Wednesday he packs his bags heads to New York.

Caulfield talks in the New York vernacular of the late ‘40s, back when the often invoked ‘goddamn’ and ‘chrissake’, were considered highly offensive. It is one of the first novels to use the f word in print; moral guardians of the time lampooned it accordingly.

Other words in Holden’s lexicon:

  • Sexy – In 1940s lingo this meant ‘horny’, not sexually attractive.
  • Crumby – Dirty/unpleasant
  • Phony – Holden’s favourite word. Fake, disingenuous and hypocritical.

On the surface the Catcher in the Rye is a coming of age story. The problem is Holden doesn’t want to grow up. Adulthood, as far as he can see, is as corrupt and materialistic as it is morally insolvent and, above all, phony. Even so, Holden lies, chain smokes, drinks and thinks of sex constantly. Only children are truly innocent.

Despite his individualist bent, however, Holden still craves human companionship. Throughout the book he stumbles his way through interactions with a variety of characters which range from hilarious to downright depressive. There is subtext aplenty, not all of which is obvious on first reading.

The Catcher in the Rye is a favorite of Bill Gates, Woody Allen, George HW Bush and, most notoriously, Mark Chapman. The Beatle killer was obsessed by the book, and was found reading it moments after he shot John Lennon dead in 1980.

The Catcher in the Rye is still a polarising book. Your perception depends on the stage in life in which you read it. Fans tend to either identify with Holden, or at least appreciate the style and literary significance.  Detractors dislike the protagonist, his vernacular, or were forced to read it at school.

JD Salinger admitted in 1953 his “boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book.” He too grew up in Manhattan and wrote early drafts while serving in WW2. At the peak of his success Salinger withdrew from the public eye and gave his last interview in 1965. He wrote 15 novels over the following decades, all of them unpublished.

Catcher is the bestselling novel never adapted into a film. Though Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo Dicaprio all campaigned for the role of Holden Caulfield it was not to be. Salinger guarded the book’s rights viciously on the assertion its subjective voice could only work in print. Though the author died in 2010, rights to the book remain firmly in Salinger’s estate – The Catcher in the Rye will not enter the public domain until 2080.

Cities of Ancient Greece

Maps of Ancient Greece - 6th Grade Social Studies

This is a list of the major city-states of Classical Greece – the time between the First Persian Invasion (490 BC) and the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), when western civilization was born.

Unlike most ancient civilizations, the Greek world was not a single empire or kingdom, but a collection of independent city-states. They shared a common language and religion but varied in their social organization. Some, like Sparta and Thebes, were militaristic and conservative; others, like Athens and Corinth, were mercantile and cultured. The following seven cities are ranked by power.

Honourable Mentions: Miletus, Ephesus, Rhodes, Delphi, Olympia

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  • Region: Argolid, Peloponnese
  • Patron Deity: Hera
  • Mythological Founder: Phoroneus
  • Dialect: Doric Greek
  • Government: democracy
  • Famous buildings: Pyramids of Argolis, Sanctuary of Aphrodite
  • Famous citizens: Pheidon

This Bronze Age stronghold was the alleged home of Hercules and the dominant power in southern Greece before the rise of Sparta. Shunned for their neutrality in the Persian Wars, the Argives fought with Athens in the Peloponnesian War, and were their main ally on land. The Spartans defeated them in 418 BC and Argos ceased to be a major power.

The Socially Gendered Body: Richard B. Hays | Pursuing VeritasCorinth

  • Region: Isthmus of Corinth
  • Patron Deity: Poseidon
  • Mythological Founder: Corinthos, Ephyra, Sisyphus
  • Dialect: Doric Greek
  • Government: oligarchy
  • Assets: navy, trade
  • Famous buildings: Temple of Apollo, Temple of Aphrodite, Peirine Fountain
  • Famous Citizens: Cypselus, Periander

Built on a strategic isthmus halfway between Athens and Sparta, the port city of Corinth was among the wealthiest cities in Greece. Corinth was famous for her black-figure pottery, iconic helmets and prostitutes. Though Poseidon was the patron god, the Corinthians also built elaborate temples to Apollo and Aphrodite. The Corinthians fought the Persians and provided their navy to fight Athens in the Peloponnesian War.

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  • Region: Boetia, central Greece
  • Patron Deity: Dionysus
  • Mythological Founder: Cadmus
  • Dialect: Aeolic Greek
  • Government: oligarchy
  • Assets: army
  • Famous buildings: Cadmeia
  • Famous citizens: Epaminondas, Pelopidas, Nichomachus, Pindar

Thebes was the home of the mythical Oedipus, a powerful inland city and a rival of Athens. The Sacred Band, Thebes’s elite fighting unit, consisted of 150 homosexual couples, who would rather die than shame themselves before their lovers.

The Thebans notably supported the Persian invasion and fought with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. When Sparta rescinded on wartime promises, however, the Thebans turned on them. Epaminondas destroyed the Spartan army at the battle of Leuctra in 371 but died before he could capitalise on his gains. Alexander the Great destroyed the city in 335 BC.

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  • Region: Attica, eastern Greece
  • Patron Deity: Athena
  • Mythological Founder: Cecrops, Theseus
  • Government: democracy
  • Dialect: Attic Greek
  • Assets: navy, trade, culture
  • Famous buildings: The Parthenon, Theatre of Dionysus
  • Famous Citizens: Solon, Cleisthenes, Themistocles, Pericles, Alcibiades, Aristophanes, Aesychlus, Sophocles, Euripedes, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes

Athens was the cultural powerhouse of Greece. The most famous playwrights, poets, philosophers and orators of the Classical Era called this city their home. Athens was run by its citizens, that is the 30% who were freeborn and male. All matters of state were decided through referendum and public discourse. Though egalitarian and progressive, her democracy was susceptible to fickleness and demagoguery.

Athenian schools, temples and political institutions were funded by a network of subservient cities. In exchange for security against Persia, each city paid tribute in gold or ships. The Athenian navy was the best in all Greece – and instrumental in thwarting the Persian invasion.  Even the poorest citizen could find steady employment as a rower.


  • Region: Laconia, Peloponnese
  • Patron Deity: Athena
  • Mythological Founder: Lacaedemon
  • Dialect: Doric Greek
  • Government: diarchy (two kings), oligarchy
  • Assets: army
  • Famous buildings: none
  • Famous Citizens: Lycurgus, Leonidas, Cleomenes III, Lysander

In the 700s BC Spartan armies invaded neighbouring Messenia and enslaved its people. To keep the conquered under their heel, the Spartans built a society that put military prowess before all else. While other Greek cities used part-time militias to fight their wars, the Spartans trained their boys as warriors from the moment they could walk.  At their peak, Spartan soldiers were the most effective in the world.

Sparta assembled the Peloponnesian League to fight Athens in the 5th century. Although they were victorious on the ground, Sparta could not match the Athenian navy. Eventually, Lysander built a fleet with Persian gold and forced Athenian surrender. With her reserve of fighting men vastly depleted however, Sparta could not keep the peace and her dominance was brief.

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  • Region: Sicily, Greater Greece
  • Patron Deity: Athena
  • Mythological Founder: Archius
  • Dialect: Doric Greek
  • Government: tyranny, democracy
  • Assets: army, trade, science
  • Famous buildings: Temple of Apollo, Latomia del Paradiso, Greek Theatre of Syarcuse
  • Famous Citizens: Gelo, Hiero, Dionysus the Elder, Archimedes

The Theban poet Pindar called Syracuse ‘the fairest Greek city’. Centuries later Cicero, a Roman called it ‘the greatest and most beautiful’. Founded by colonists from Corinth around 734 BC, Syracuse grew to be the largest Greek city.

For most of its history, Classical Syracuse waged war with the North African city of Carthage for control of Sicily. In the Peloponnesian War, Syracuse not only survived an Athenian invasion but destroyed her fleet. The tyrant Dionysus I (367-362) and his mercenaries forged an empire stretching across Sicily and southern Italy. Inventor and physicist Archimedes (287-212), of Archimedes Principle fame, was Syracuse’s most famous citizen. He died when Roman armies took the city.

Top Power in mainland Greece:

  • 490 – 431 BC: Athens (Athenian Golden Age)
  • 430 – 404 BC: Athens/Sparta (Peloponnesian War)
  • 404 – 371 BC: Sparta (Spartan Hegemony)
  • 371 – 362 BC: Thebes (Theban Hegemony)
  • 362 – 360 BC: Athens/Sparta/Thebes (power vacuum)
  • 359 – 323 BC: Macedon (conquests of Philip and Alexander)

Sources: Ancient, Ian Morris – The Greeks: History, Culture and Society,, The Times Encyclopedia of History


Related imageSantiago is the Spanish name for Saint James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles, patron saint, and mythical hero of Spain and Portugal. In Catholic Spanish iconography, Santiago is evoked not only as the humble fisherman from the Bible but a crusader knight and conquistador. Five cities are named after him, including the capital of Chile. He is Sao Thiago in Portuguese.

The Spanish Iago derives from the Hebrew Ya’akov, as Saint James was known in his lifetime. Like most Biblical names, it differs according to language:

  • Hebrew – Ya’akov
  • Greek – Iakobus
  • Classical Latin – Iacobus
  • Vulgar Latin – Iacobu
  • Spanish – Iago, Yago, Jacobo, Jaime, Diego
  • Portuguese –Thiago, Tiago
  • Italian – Giacobo, Giacomo
  • English – Jacob, James

The English Jacob derives directly from the Latin Iacobus, while the more common James is an Anglicisation of the Italian Giacomo.

Of the European languages, the Russian ‘Yakov’ is closest to the original Hebrew.

Image result for saint james martyrdomAccording to the Bible James and his brother John the Apostle were cousins and early disciples of Christ. Santiago was known for his violent temper – once calling for God to rain fire upon a Samaritan town. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 BC, and was thus the first Christian martyr and the only one recorded in the New Testament (Acts).

The 12th century Historia Compostelana claims Santiago proselyted in northwestern Spain (Galicia) before returning to Jerusalem, and was carried there by angels when he died.  The Bible makes no mention of these episodes however, and historians and theologians doubt its veracity.

By 700 AD, the Spanish had claimed Iago as their patron saint. His body is said to reside in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostella. A legend arose that Santiago descended from heaven and fought at the 9th century Battle of Clavijo against the invading Moors.  This earned him the moniker Santiago Matamoros, or ‘Saint James the Moor Slayer’.

In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Santiago was the most popular place of pilgrimage in Europe. The famous ‘Camino de Santiago’ or ‘Way of Saint James’ attracted thousands of pilgrims  in the 10th and 12th centuries.

In the 21st century the route has seen a significant revival. attracting not only pilgrims and tourists but avid hikers and seekers of spiritual growth, making it a European counterpart to the USA’s Oregon and Appalachian Trials. The Camino de Santiago was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993.

Image result for camino de santiago

The Order of Santiago was a military order founded in 1175. Akin to the Knights Templar and Hospitallers of Palestine, the Order protected Christian pilgrims and, in the spirit of Santiago Matamoros, sought to drive the Moors from Spain. Like the Knights of Saint John, the Order of Santiago still exists today, though no longer in a military sense.

Reminiscent of Henry V’s ‘Cry Harry, England and Saint George!’, ‘¡Santiago y cierra, España!’ was the warcry of the Spanish Reconquista.

Santiago, Chile was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdiva in 1541 on Incan land. Today it is a highly developed capital city of over 7 million inhabitants and the 7th largest city in Latin America. Its namesakes include Spain’s Santiago de Compostella and cities in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. San Diego, California is named not for Saint James but Didacalus of Alcala, a 15th century missionary.

Sources: Behindthename, Catholic Encyclopedia, Santiago Compostela, The Guardian, UNESCO

See Also:

Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible

7244The Poisonwood Bible (1998) is a novel by American author Barbara Kingsolver.  Spanning thirty years, it follows the trials and tribulations of a Baptist missionary family who relocate from small town Georgia to the heart of the Belgian Congo.

The Price Family are woefully ignorant. Their Betty Crocker cake mixes fail in the tropical climate and, after dismissing the housekeeper’s advice to make mounds of earth around their vegetable patch, they find it flooded the next day.

Reverend Nathan Price, the fanatical family patriarch, only alienates his new home when he insists on baptising her people in the Kwilu river.  For the neighbours it is madness; everyone knows the river is infested with crocodiles. When Reverend Price attempts to preach in the local tongue he proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala! Bangala means lord, but in the tonal Kikongo language, slight inflection is the difference between lord and poisonwood.

The story is told in first person, from the perspective of the Price women:

  • Rachel, 15 at the start is a typical 1950s American teenager and the most out of place in their new home. Most concerned with sleepovers, a pleasant sweet 16, and getting a boyfriend, she hates life in the Congo and is the least sympathetic to the plight of those around her.
  • Leah, 14 years old is an intelligent and outspoken tomboy who walks in her father’s shadow like a loyal dog. Playing the story’s most central role, Leah gets the most chapters. She was my favorite character.
  • Adah, Leah’s younger twin. A mishap in the womb left her paralysed on the right side of her body, for which she blames Leah. Adah, although not much of a talker, is fiercely introspective. She enjoys reading backwards and writing palindromes.
  • Ruth May, at 5 years old in the beginning of the story, is far younger than her sisters. Her narration offers a more innocent and open minded perspective on life in the Congo. Typical of younger children, she is the most adept at picking up new languages.
  • Orleana Price, the mother of the girls, narrates the start of each chapter from the future, reflecting on past events with an air of guilt. Conversely the girls’ narration is current, and often speaks in the present tense.

Kingsolver’s style goes against conventional creative writing wisdom. The girls show and don’t tell, simply recounting events as one would to a friend without vividly painting the scene. Their narration is highly subjective, emotive and distinct. By the end of the book all five of the girls are living lives as  different from one another’s as their personalities.

The Poisonwood Bible was intended as an allegory. Beginning in 1959, it is set in a turbulent time in the country that suffered the most from colonialism. Figures like Patrice Lamumba, Eisenhower and Mobutu all play their role. Though they never meet the story’s characters, their actions shape their world all the same.

The Poisonwood Bible may be just another ‘white person in Africa novel’, but is anything but a white savior narrative. It is a little too bleak and realistic, if anything.

As a girl Kingsolver lived a year in Kinshasa, Congo, though  her parents were doctors, not missionaries. As someone who writes about places she has lived, Kingsolver could only paint the Congo from the eyes of outsiders.

For research, Kingsolver drew on African literature, history books, 1950s American magazines, the King James Bible and her own experiences. Being a critic of Mobutu, the Congo’s then dictator, she was limited to visiting neighbouring countries for research.

The Poisonwood Bible took Kingsolver ten years to write.  It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1999, showcased on Oprah’s book club and and won the Boueke Prize in 2000.

“Don’t try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you’re good, bad things can still happen. And if you’re bad, you can still be lucky.”