The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The story of the Catcher in the Rye is an expression of what most teenagers in North America feel at some point during their adolescence. They, as Holden Caulfield does, believe themselves to be more intelligent than anyone else in the room, and are moodier than others.
Holden Caulfield is the main character and the narrator throughout the story. He presents himself as a failing student who sees the world as full of phonies and is well on his way to becoming a severely depressed alcoholic. Holden is constantly expressing his hatred with the world and the majority of the people in it, even though it is fleeting and he only hates people for a short time until he wants to spend an evening with them again (Salinger, 187). Holden interacts with different characters that he lives with, was a student of or was a student with, strangers in public and his family, primarily his younger sister Phoebe and his deceased younger brother Allie. Of these characters in the novel, the only two that Holden appears to truly care about are his younger siblings. This shows the protective nature of the character that otherwise does not show much positive emotions for others.
Holden’s story takes place in a variety of physical places but it also takes place in his mind. Holden is telling his story to himself as he travels, thinking about those that he believes to be phonies and why he is better than them (Salinger, 126).
The beginning of the novel moves slowly as the reader begins to learn about all the different things that Holden hates and about his departure from Pencey Prep (Salinger, 2). It is not until Holden get to New York that the book begins to pick up in pace as he has more involvement with varying characters. The book does not move in a steady pace as the ending of the book, when Holden and his sister Phoebe are talking that the book moves rapidly. The slow progression in pacing allows for the reader to gain a better understanding of Holden and who he is, before introducing his sister, one of the few people that can make Holden stop, listen and think about what he’s doing and how he views things.
There are many themes throughout this novel such as family, teenage-angst, and alcoholism. Holden is constantly worried about when his parents would find out that he had once again failed out of boarding school. Holden was primarily concerned about his mother’s reaction as she had become nervous and stressed since the death of Allie. Phoebe is the other family member that is constantly on his mind, recalling how smart she was and that he hoped that she never became a phoney like their eldest brother D.B.
Holden expresses his teenage-angst by explaining how horrible and phoney everything in the world was, and how depressed it made him (Salinger, 114). Holden is constantly looking for a drink. He is underage and faces challenges in some bars when trying to order a drink and the bartender does not believe that he is legal and this is a frustration for him. He is willing to drink alone but will often reach out to anyone he can, including his current cab driver to join him for a drink. When things weren’t going right for Holden, as they rarely were in his opinion, he reached for a cigarette and a drink—proclaiming to himself that he “…felt like getting stinking drunk” (Salinger, 145).
This was never a book that I read in my youth nor was I ever full of angst. If I had read this as a teenager I feel I would have understood where Holden was coming from more but at this stage in my life, he presents himself as a self-righteous teenager who complains about everything. What appealed to me throughout this book was the relationship between Holden and Phoebe. She was the only person who was able to truly get through to him when he was depressed and angry at the world. Without this relationship, I would not have been as interested in the novel.
I would recommend this book to people ages 13-21 to read. I believe that the lessons discussed in this novel are still relevant to today’s youth.