Title: “Discussing cussin’ in Catcher in The Rye”
This week in Mr. Connor’s Junior English class, Wildcats have been identifying and analyzing profanity usage in the American classic The Catcher in the Rye. The Catcher in the Rye shocked audiences in the 50’s and was banned for its “profane and obscene” language and themes. While tame to the standards of the 21st century, Catcher in the Rye serves as a touchstone for values and life in the mid 20th century. For generations of readers, Holden Caulfield’s critique of American adulthood as phony, hypocritical, and obsessed with commercial goods has given language to the experiences of teenagers. As readers, writers, and scholars, our Wildcats put IB principles into practice every day as communicators and inquirers. While controversial, Wildcats considered profanity in both the novel and the broader world around them.
Students first identified profanity used by Holden Caulfield and other characters in the novel before analyzing how some words have continued to be controversial while others have become more acceptable. One Wildcat wrote, “Some words change in their offensiveness because of how people use them. Other words are still bad because they hurt feelings and are just insults. The fact that they are still offensive shows that we still have respect for people.” From this, students practiced international mindedness by reflecting on how what a culture finds profane reveals its values.
After thinking through profanity in a broader sense, they applied their ideas to particular examples through a visual discussion. Students walked around the room and responded to prompts and their peers’ ideas in an exercise of developing valid claims and reasoning. These visual prompts led to students engaging in a class-wide discussion about the politics of language use in different cultures, contexts, and spaces. “Profanity is way to express yourself,” said one young woman, “but you have to be aware of who you’re talking to. Sometimes you have to code switch. Profanity can show who you are, how you were brought up.”
Aside from its usage in the novel, students also made connections to the broader themes of the book, which helped to build real world connections to their learning. With respect to each other and the class, Wildcats uncovered nuance in the words around us.