Perhaps due to boring literature lessons in school, as a teenager I sort of fell a bit out of love with reading. The Catcher in the Rye helped reel me back in. Although it was initially written for adults, it’s characters, theme and style have appealed to teenagers ever since. The narrator is Holden Caulfield and we as readers see the world through his eyes and in his words. The novel has come under some criticism for its frequent swearing, but to my mind, it adds authenticity to the story.
The story begins as Holden is facing expulsion from his exclusive school. After arguing with his dorm-mate, Holden decides not to stay for the last few days of term and instead catches a train to New York City and checks into a hotel until he is due to return home. Here he contemplates his sexuality, as he labels other residents ‘perverts’. He goes out dancing and agrees to take a prostitute home, but feels sorry for her and subsequently decides all he wants to do with her is talk.
The next day, Holden takes an old friend out, but ends up arguing with her and becoming more depressed. Unsure what to do next Holden goes home to visit his sister Phoebe, the only person he feels can relate to him. Not wanting to see his parents, he sneaks in to talk to her, telling her of his fantasy about what he wants to do with his life. He sees himself on the edge of a cliff, in a field of Rye as sole guardian over a group of children. As the children are playing, they are in danger of falling of the edge of the cliff and Holden is responsible for being ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, the saviour of the children.
After his conversation with Phoebe, Holden once again runs away, this time to the home of his former teacher and friend Mr Antolini. They chat long into the night over several drinks and Holden is upset to wake up to find Mr Antolini stroking his hair. Freaked out by this turn of events, Holden runs away again, back to Phoebe whom he informs he is going to run away and live as a deaf -mute.
Throughout the book, we are constantly aware of Holden fragile mental state. The events described aren’t exciting, but the thought processes are. One tiny occurrence, such as picking up a book can result in a long passage about Holden’s experiences. This is confirmed at the end as Holden makes vague references to getting sick and spending time in a mental hospital. He doesn’t want to tell us much about his present state, or what is happening now, preferring to explain instead those few days following his expulsion. We are left with a sense of hope, that things will turn out ok for Holden.
This book is frequently voted onto many ‘must read’ lists and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve known people like Holden Caulfield, who’ve felt the sense of alienation and confusion. There is authenticity to this story. Moreover, it’s entertaining. The use of language adds to the flavour, giving an accurate location and time setting. It’s a great read, not just for teenagers, but not just for adults either. It’s also not too long, ending at just the right time. (I hate when books don’t know when to end!)
It’s been a few years since I last read it, but this is a book I keep going back to and probably always will. Do yourself a favour and read it if you haven’t already. I feel sorry as hell for anyone who hasn’t.
“When the weather’s nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie’s grave. I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out. In the first place, I don’t enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn’t too bad when the sun was out, but twice—twice—we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That’s what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner—everybody except Allie. I couldn’t stand it. I know it’s only his body and all that’s in the cemetery, and his soul’s in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn’t stand it anyway. I just wished he wasn’t there.”
If you enjoy stories of disaffected youth you might like The Outsiders
If you like stories about mentally unstable youth you might like The Bell Jar
If you like the self indulgent narrator you might like A Confederacy Of Dunces
If you like the authentic use of the American dialect you might like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn