Published on July 31st, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
It took a while but I finally got round to reading The Catcher in the Rye last week, after years of procrastination and to be honest, I couldn’t have made a better decision.
Written in 1951 by J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye is a first person narrative, told in a personal style by the main character, Holden Caulfield. The novel has been both the most banned and the mostly widely read at schools since its publication and is known for its controversial use of profanities and sexual intercourse.
Caulfield is 16 years old and has just been kicked out of his 4th prep school for failing to achieve the necessary grades, feeling neglected he ventures to New York City where he wanders around for the next few nights, contemplating life and the people around him.
I really didn’t know what the book was about at all and knowing that 3 murder attempts, of which two were successful, have been attributed to it, I thought that it would be more exciting, not that this is a dull book in any way.
The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most relevant American novels of all time.
The narration is very fast-paced and sentences are formed in a vocal way, making you feel more like you’re listening to someone’s thoughts of the moment, rather than a diarised series of events. Caulfield makes use of frequent 50’s profanity, meaning there is a lot of “goddamn” and “hell” going on. The stream of conciousness leaves the reader with a unique feeling of empathy, especially as the character is met with somewhat normal situations and reacts in predictable yet uncomfortable ways. For example, he is unable to go through with sleeping with a prostitute that he finds himself ordering after an unikely encounter with a pimp in an elevator. We see in Caulfield all of the insecurities we often feel or felt in ourselves at some point or another. It’s not merely his self amongst others, it’s his lines of thinking and his abrupt and almost random mannerisms that endear one to him. Speaking of which, one of the things that Caulfield mentions once or twice in the novel is where the ducks go in winter at Central Park’s pond, it seems like Central Park gets asked this so often now that they’ve dedicated a webpage to it, which I thought was odd.
About three or four chapters into it, I really had no idea what to make of it. It reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis meets Mark Twain, which seems pretty apt considering the fact that the book alongside Huckleberry Finn and the Great Gatsby is considered one of the great American novels and the Ellis was inspired by Salinger for Less than Zero. I had a feeling that the end of the book would be a little like Taxi Driver, but instead we’re treated to one of the most poignant, moving and relevant moralistic endings I’ve seen in any medium.
To explain it I will move through a couple of the themes in the book which precede and enhance the effect of the ending.
The novel begins at a time that Caulfield should still be in education, but his being expelled means that he is in limbo, he is not a fully fledged adult outside of school, but nor is he a student under a teacher’s guidance. This conflict is indicative of the initial setting/mood, starting off Holden’s journey, not into adulthood, but into acceptance.
In his attempt to reconcile his own conscience about failing and resolve the conflicts of his own place in the world, Caulfield firstly attempts to seek aknowledgement as an adult, but his own self-confessed “yellow-ness” leads him to reject the prostitute he orders, shy from confidently ordering alcoholic drinks and not being able to stick with attempts at sexual intercourse and the like. After an attempt to meet his sister, which resulted in a walk around the museum, musing nostalgically, we begin to see Caulfield recognise his failed attempts at becoming adult prematurely, possibly as a revolt against his own not-so-secret desires to remain young and carefree, away from the phony adults that he doesn’t wish to become.
An all too realistic glimpse into the mind of an adolescent.
The museum reminds him of a history that remains and of the constant it resembles. This results in a trip to his home to talk to his younger sister, this return to his home is metaphorical to his own regression and it’s around here we learn more about the title of the book and its importance. In a mis-rememberance of a poem, Caulfield thinks about how he wishes to be a catcher in the rye. Someone who saves children from falling off a cliff whilst playing. It’s this preservation of innocence and his own torment at growing older that leads Caulfield to live a dualistic life.
The book eventually ends with his sister giving him back his hat, which shows that she is the only person truly paying attention unlike the other “phonies” and Caulfield watches as she rides on a carousel, while trying to dangerously reach out to something. He epiphanises that children are capable of making mistakes and are able to “catch themselves”, he lets go of his control issues and decides he can stop trying to cling onto innocence. This fulfills the circle of the book into one of confusion and disassociation into one of growth and maturity as well as understanding of the world that surrounds us.
Caulfield is known to be an unreliable narrator, one of my favourite lines in the book is what I believe one of the most clear proofs for Caulfield’s unreliability and could offer insight into why he is incarcerated into an asylum. “That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose.” I think at this point, Caulfield percieves the world is out to get him and the innocence he stands for, the writing on the wall is a delusion which chronically haunts him.
To read this book is to take an all too realistic glimpse into the mind of an adolescent, something that could have become a very obsess-able object for me in my younger years, on the face of it, it’s hard to understand why controversy surrounds this book, but twinned with its own candid expression of the most difficult time in a person’s life, with the somewhat social commentary on the 50’s and also general societal issues, makes the Catcher in the Rye one of the most relevant American novels of all time.