The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ~Goodreads~
Published by Penguin 1951
Paperback 230 pages ~The Book Depository~
Holden Caulfield is a seventeen-year-old drop-out who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.
I’ve finally broken my J.D. Salinger virginity!! A bit over the top way to start this review? Perhaps, but seriously why has it taken me so long to get my massive curly-haired head into this book? I’m almost ashamed, nonetheless it has happened and I’m going to tell you why The Catcher in the Rye is my favourite book ever (right now).
This book has one of the best opening chapter’s I’ve ever read. Straight away our impressions of Holden is a moany and troubled teenager, who has been kicked out of four school’s- more recently Pencey Prep. At first we see Holden as a character who likes to criticise others of their faults and as my first impression I find this rather amusing as he has a very witty and dry sense of humour where he says what he thinks without giving it any consideration. As we discover more about Holden and his past we understand why he has a very “marmite” (love/hate) personality.
One of the many themes this book conveys is Holden’s alienation and loneliness as a form of self-protection. He tells Mr Spencer that he feels that he doesn’t belong in this world, his interactions with others confuse and overwhelm him and his cynical sense of superiority is his defence for self-protection. Holden’s alienation is the source of why he has such little stability in his life (getting kicked out of school) and therefore the cause of most of his pain and depression. Throughout the book all I wanted to do is give Holden a hug, he is crying out for love but his protective wall of bitterness prevents him from receiving this love. He’s frightened to accept love and interaction and as a reflex he ends up insulting those who are trying to show him this love, because of this he fears intimacy as it is full of unpredictability that he does not wish to challenge himself of because of his armor of cynicism and bitterness.
This book is a coming of age novel, a growth into maturity. Ironically Holden’s character resists the process of maturity. Holden fears change and its complexity, he likes things to be understandable and fixed. He pictures two comparative worlds where he imagines childhood as an idyllic field of rye where children play and then adulthood, for the children is the same as death- a fall over the edge of a cliff. He says that he would want to be “the catcher in the rye” saving children from going over the cliff and entering adulthood a fearful and unpredicting world.
Before I turn this review into more of an essay, I want to point out that I do understand why this novel is such a marmite book. Holden may be an irritable, sarcastic character but I feel that in order to love this book you have to be on the same page as Holden and share his feelings and outlook on life- I definitely do. In a way I’m glad I left this book to read, the age I’m at now I feel that I appreciated Holden’s story a lot more than I would have done if I read it in school. I share his fear of what adulthood has in store for me, it’s a big world out there full of different paths that I’m worried to take. I often alienate myself and feel lonely when there are those around me who want to spend time with me and share new experiences with, and yet I push them away and fill myself with regret and bitterness. It’s an awful cycle to get yourself into but I think in order to step into adulthood you need to realise the responsibility you have of yourself and that to get things done you need to do it yourself. If Holden had a closer relationship with his family in the first place, his social anxiety may well not have occurred to this depressing level.
Overall, I have never connected with a book or character as much as I have with Holden. His sarcasticness, honesty and overall complexity made me laugh and empathise with him throughout. I wanted to reach out and give him a hug, as well as tell him things get better. Change is inevitable and we all need to embrace it, as I believe in the end it will all be for the best- life is too short to worry about!