J.D. Salinger’s controversial novel, The Catcher in the Rye, looks at the teen Holden Caulfield. A troubled, honest, foul-mouthed student, whose rebellion sees him booted from his place at Pencey Prepatory. The novel details Caulfield’s personal trials and endeavours over the course of four days, each event revealing a bigger picture over his character, his past, and his cynicism towards society.
Published in 1951, the coming-of-age fiction novel achieved its spotlight in 20th century literature. Based on a boy’s teen angst, defeat, love, and alienation as he tries to find his way in the world with the ‘phonies’ all around him. Salinger’s novel is almost biographical, his character Holden born from the young writers first short stories and developed over the course of the second World War.
The story begins with the narrator and protagonist describing a Saturday, missing a football game due to a mishap over losing his team’s fencing equipment. Then he visits the home of Mr. Spencer, his history teacher who discusses Holden’s expulsion. Caulfield spends the evening in his dorm, but, after an argument with roommate Stradler, he leaves Pencey and travels back to New York, avoiding home and his parents.
This was an interesting read and left me feeling relieved by the end of it – the further the plot went on, the more I thought Holden Caulfield was about to do something really stupid. After the novel’s release and up until the late 80s, it was one of the most censored books to be taught in American schools. This book also gained a worse reputation after the fatal shootings of John Lennon, Rebecca Schaeffer and an attempt on Ronald Reagan. However, although aimed at adults, many teenagers read and related to Caulfield’s character – in fact, his forlorn personality is one which any age group can resonate with.
Published post-war, it is not a happy book focusing on happy themes; but on subjects and emotions paralleled to Salinger’s own. The Catcher in the Rye is a stitching of Salinger’s early short stories where Holden Caulfield is born, and developed through his experiences in the war along with his later tales. The book represents a loss of faith in humanity and a darkness prevailing in the world, but is nonetheless a text both human, vulnerable and relatable. The main character recounts his inner thoughts: Salinger’s writing style give us a disjointed mismatch of tales expressed by Holden. We are immersed in this young man’s colloquial wording and his honest outlook on the world around him. (Though, some of his ‘if you want to know the truth’ views on religion and homosexuality are politically incorrect today). His outlook is similar to his creator’s, an army sergeant who witnessed loss and the fatal flaws of humanity. I find this passage really compelling and heartfelt:
‘Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.’
Salinger presents a caring protagonist who (like himself) fears losing those close to him. Although the 17-year-old has seen past the ideologies of a society that is never able to fulfil dare I say it, the American Dream, his sense of loss and lack of accomplishments make him a clairvoyant and colloquial speaker of the 20th century which continues to resonate into the 21st. I urge you to read this book and come to your own conclusions on this boy’s persona.