The Catcher in the Rye is a book by J.D Salinger. Written in 1951, Salinger narrated the story of a young teenager, Holden Caulfield.
The book has been described as unconventional and controversial. One thing however is unarguable and that is the fact that it is an extremely interesting read. And definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but the truth, they say, ain’t always pretty.
Holden is a seventeen-year old boy one would say is ‘tired of everything’, something we can all relate to at one point in our lives. Having flunked three schools, this story starts at the point of his flunking the fourth.
The book begins with Holden directly addressing the reader and begins with a somewhat sarcastic opener about his family, throwing his family in the conventional and uptight lane. He affectionately mentioned his elder brother D.B who writes for the movies now and he ‘absolutely hates the movies’. His opener, while most would consider crumby and sarcastic was appealing as it made me want to go inside the head of this young protagonist and entertain his thoughts as my own. He started telling the story the day he left his boarding school ‘ Pencey Prep’ and went to bid his teacher goodbye which he described as ‘phony’ alongside everyone at Pencey Prep. His great distaste for phony is captured in different parts of the book ringing most especially in his conversation with his little sister Phoebe whom he refers to as ‘Old Phoebe’ where he discarded the career option of being a lawyer, which his father was by saying,
‘…All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink martinis and look like a hotshot. And besides, even if you go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives or you did it because what you really wanted to do was to be a terrific lawyer with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over… would you know you weren’t being phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t…’
Salinger creates a brash atmosphere from the very beginning of the book with Holden being portrayed as insolent, lazy and completely rebellious teenager who smokes, drinks and cusses and is completely clueless about his future. Holden was relegated as unconcerned and nonchalant even about his state of uncertainty and rebelliousness.
Personally, I would like to interpret that underneath it all, he is just a vulnerable and confused teenager who is trying desperately to find a way, any way. This is mirrored in the gentle affection he has for his sister, Phoebe. How he talks about his late brother, Allie-his red hair, his baseball mitt, his smartness. And how he affectionately cusses out his elder brother, D.B.
Almost all of the story is one long flashback with occasional references to the present. In between flashbacks, he narrated the story of his brother Allie’s baseball mitt, a subject so mundane and yet speaks volume of his love for him. In his later conversation with Phoebe when she tried to call him out as uncaring and asked for one thing he liked, he said ‘Allie’ and went on to say ‘Just because somebody’s dead, you don’t just stop liking them, for God’s sake…’
The Catcher in the Rye is an outstanding novel and as much as critics would like to call out Salinger for being extremely crude and unrefined for portraying Holden in the way he did (outlandish, rebellious, nonchalant, sarcastic), it should be noted that there are two sides, as always, to every story and as much as Holden couldn’t help himself, he wanted to minimize the hurt as much as possible for the people who cared about him. This is encapsulated in the way he tried to avoid his parents knowing he had flunked yet another school by saying ‘his mother had not been the same since Allie’s death’. His sensitive side also reared its head whenever he talked about his siblings and his refusal to have sex with a prostitute wanting to ‘talk’ instead. The book, while strewn with profanities, portrays the struggle almost every teenager has to go through, choosing what path to take in life. The pressure from parents, teachers, friends and relatives. The doubt. The uncertainty, the fear in knowing that one wrong step could lead to irreparable damage. Some have it easy. Some do not.
All Holden wanted to be is ‘a catcher in the rye’- ‘I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. 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… that’s all I’d do all day. I’d be the catcher in the rye. I know it’s crazy, but it’s the only thing I’d really like to be…’