The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
Paperback, 277 pages
Published on: January 30th 2001 (first published 1951)
Publisher: Back Bay Books
The Catcher in Rye is the ultimate novel for disaffected youth, but it's
relevant to all ages. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen-
year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout,
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.
Lazy in style, full of slang and swear words, it's a novel whose interest and appeal comes from its observations rather than its plot intrigues (in conventional terms, there is hardly any plot at all). Salinger's style creates an effect of conversation, it is as though Holden is speaking to you personally, as though you too have seen through the pretences of the American Dream and are growing up unable to see the point of living in, or contributing to, the society around you.
Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.
Jerome David Salinger merits all the kudos in the world for giving the world of literature a wonderfully crafted piece like The Catcher in the Rye. It is so obvious to the reader that the author has so many emotions attached to the book. The book has been written straight from the heart, undoubtedly, and this adds to the beauty of it.
The story is about a teenager- Holden Caulfield who believes that all the people in the world are phonies and the world goes round for a phony cause of its own. He believes that the only true people are the children and as they grow they become more of phonies and less of the innocent souls. He wishes he could save the innocence of all the children in the world and keep them from becoming phonies.
The story begins when Holden Caulfield lives a life of torment at Pencey, a prep school, at Pennsylvania. After he flunks in four out of his five subjects, he gets an intimation of his expulsion. After being beaten to a pulp by his roommate, Stradlater, he leaves the school a week ahead of the decided date of his departure.
Holden, a coward for fighting, is very innocent at heart. Although he is a sixteen year old but still deep inside him resides an innocent child which Salinger has wonderfully portrayed. The best thing about it is that Salinger has given a vivid picture of the forlorn and depressed Caulfield in a way that leaves a deep impression on the heart. Whatever age group you belong to, you will relate yourself with Holden in many instances.
The wonderful thing about Holden is the way he feels sad for people he doesn't even know and how he wishes good for them all - be it a prostitute or a group of nuns.
Being badly depressed at the way his life goes on alone at NY, sans any company and without any one to talk to during his stay, he finds a child walking on the street and humming to "If a body catch a body coming through the rye" and he feels a lot relieved of the depression.
Upto this point I felt that Salinger had written a so- so novel with a stupid title. But it is only after this point that you you understand the entire meaning of his each and every word said till then. You also understand that Salinger deserves a salute for what he has written.
Holden misses his younger sister Phoebe and looks for her in the Central Park and when he doesn't find her there he visits her at home when his parents are away. He tells her that he has again been thrown out of school and about his dream of being "the catcher in the rye," a person who catches little children as they are about to fall off of a cliff.
"You know what I'd like to be?" I said. "You know what I'd like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?"
"What? Stop swearing."
"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like--"
"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."
"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."
She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.
"I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
Old Phoebe didn't say anything for a long time. Then, when she said something, all she said was, "Daddy's going to kill you."
The thing I didn't like about it is that you get to know what he means actually a little too late. By that time most of the people must think of it to be an utterly stupid book.
The language used is simple- the way an average sixteen year old would write. This is something you will never really find in the classics. Holden is happy as well and optimistic about his future at a new school. But he misses all the people he's met this week from Stradlater to the Nuns to Old Maurice.
I did not like the book so much at the time I finished it but as days passed by, I thought about it and liked it more and more.
It is saddening that Salinger did not write any other book after or before it. The book remained banned since the first year of its publication in America till a few years from today and has gotten into many controversies. They said it had a lot of vulgarity, foul language, sex, blasphemy and other eccentric stuff not good for children but I believe that it is not so (I'd concede to the foul language part, though).
Undoubtedly, Salinger's Catcher was misunderstood by the Americans all his life.