The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My Rating: 5 stars
When I think of classic novels, the first thing the comes to mind is one of those boring, musty books that students are forced to read in English class that barely seems like it is even written in English. I was highly mistaken.
The Catcher in the Rye, a title very commonly heard, follows seventeen-year-old narrator and protagonist, Holden Caulfield through the unique writing style of J.D. Salinger. Holden addresses the reader directly from a mental hospital in southern California, wanting to describe a series of events that took place over a two-day period the previous December. The whole story is a long flashback; Holden first starts off with recounting his life at Pencey Prep, an exclusive, all-boys school in Pennsylvania. He has been expelled for failing four out of the five subjects he was studying that semester, which was everything except English.
After a brawl with his older roommate, Holden decides to not wait until Christmas break, which is only a few days away, to return back home. He packs up his things and catches a train to New York City. Over the next two days, Holden’s adventures around the city include an encounter with a prostitute, a date with a previous girlfriend and many visits to various bars in attempt to pick up women and drink alcohol. Throughout the novel, Holden reminisces on memories and tells stories about his family members, mostly about his siblings, D.B., Allie, and Phoebe.
Towards the end of his story, Holden explains the only thing he wants to do in his life: “…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye…Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye…I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” This “catcher in the rye” is an analogy for Holden, who admires qualities in kids, like innocence, kindness, spontaneity, and generosity, that he struggles to find in adults. Falling off the edge of this “crazy cliff” represents the transition from childhood into the evils of the adult world, which is something Holden strongly criticizes. Ironically, later in the novel, Holden’s younger sister, Phoebe, becomes his “catcher”, while he takes the role of the “fallen.”
Over the years, The Catcher in the Rye has sparked much controversy, drawing out different opinions about not only the morals of the story, but of Holden as a character. And not all reception of this book has been positive. After reading various reviews and opinions of the book online, I have come to the conclusion that many people criticize Holden. They seem to view him as a rebellious, ignorant jerk. He is accused of being a poor role model; frequently using vulgar language, encouraging acts of rebellion, and promoting drinking, lying, and promiscuity. I think that’s the point, though. Holden is not supposed to be a role model. He’s supposed to be this annoying, whiny, jerk of a teenager. He is actually quite an accurate representation of not only teenagers during that time but us as humans in general.
I think one of the reasons many seem to dislike him immediately is because Holden is, in fact, too much like us. But he does not show the good, moral side of humans. He smokes a lot. He drinks alcohol underage. He curses like a sailor and rebels against the law. Holden represents the more rough side of humans, the parts of us that give into our vices and lie and rebel, the parts that we might not be too proud to accept and acknowledge. I do not think those who claim to hate Holden actually hate him. I think they are afraid of being him.
I, personally, love Holden. I think the fact that at some points while I was reading, I couldn’t stand him, and the other half of the time I wish he was my best friend is awesome. If everyone loved Holden, that would be boring. Disliking him might not be a bad thing. I think that’s what characters in a book are supposed to do, that’s what Holden is supposed to do. He is the main character because Salinger seemed to want to create controversy amongst his readers.
Holden actually reminds me a lot of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie is the opposite of Holden, though. He represents the more innocent and confused side of us. Although The Catcher in the Rye was written quite some time before Perks, Charlie and Holden are actually very similar. They are both teenagers struggling to find their place in the world. Both of their stories have themes of loneliness, depression and alienation.
What makes The Catcher in the Rye such a fantastic novel is its timelessness and its ability to cause so much controversy. It not only captures the essence of the time period, but also provokes emotion and conflict in its readers about beliefs and morals that are still prominent currently.