The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel written by J.D Salinger. It is written in first person, in the voice of the protagonist, Holden. In fact, J.D Salinger calls it “sort of autobiographical” because it resembles some of his own childhood experiences. J.D Salinger was known for his reclusive nature. The fact that he served in World War 2 and experienced firsthand the hardships and emotions of war seems to have further accentuated his liking for solitude. The Catcher in the Rye captures similar emotions of the troubled life and loneliness of the adolescent protagonist, Holden Caulfield.
The Catcher in the Rye is a book about the three days that sixteen year old Holden Caulfield spends in the city of New York. Holden Caulfield is the narrator himself.
The book starts with Holden telling the reader clearly that he is going to tell his story in his own way.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – Chapter 1, page 1.
Holden is expelled from his boarding school, Pencey, for having flunked in four subjects. He shares the experiences that he has had at school with his fellow schoolmates. He vehemently criticizes the schoolboys, calling them “phonies”. In fact, “phony” seems to be one of Holden’s favorite words to use, judging from the number of times one encounters the word in the book. After his expulsion, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the dead of the night, never to return. Pencey happens to be the fourth school he has been expelled from. Troubled by this fact he is, he takes a train to New York where his family lives but he doesn’t want to return to his family yet; at least not for another few days until term officially ends at school and he would be officially expected home. He instead checks into the ancient, dilapidated, Edmunt Hotel. There, reflecting on the mess that he is in, low in spirits and smoking cigarettes, he desperately looks for some form of solace.
He then encounters a man in an elevator who offers to send a prostitute to his room. He agrees. When the prostitute finally arrives, he is in no mood for sex. The confused state of his mind is seen again when he tells her that he doesn’t want to go to bed with her but he only wants to talk. She gets annoyed and leaves, though he does pay her for her time. She comes back a little later with her pimp and demands that she be paid more than what was initially asked for. When Holden refuses to pay extra, the man beats him up and takes the extra money from his wallet. Hurt and in pain, he retires for the night.
Holden spends a total of three days in New York. He visits the Museum of Natural History. He remembers his field trips there as a child and suddenly remembers how sweet childhood is – the innocence and the absence of any problems. He becomes very nostalgic and wishes childhood phase could last forever, like the things in a museum.
“Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.” – Chapter 16, page 122.
Eventually, he sneaks into his parents’ apartment when they are away to visit his younger sister, Phoebe. He loves Phoebe very much and considers her a very smart kid. At this point, Phoebe seems to be the only person in the world that he is capable of having a comfortable conversation with. Holden then shares with her a fantasy he has had – to be a guardian to a huge rye field, watching over numerous children playing and frolicking, and catching those who wander too close to the edge of the cliff; or in other words, being the “catcher in the rye”.
After leaving his parents’ apartment, he pays a visit to his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini, where he is given a place to sleep and also inspirational advice.
It is only a few days before Christmas now, and Holden will soon be able to go home but he is still filled with grief and feels that very weird things are happening to him.
“I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street. I thought I’d just go down, down, down, and nobody’ll ever see me again.” – Chapter 25, page 197.
He decides to escape – escape from everything and go West.
Before he leaves, he wants to see Phoebe one last time. He goes to her school and delivers a note asking her to meet him at the art museum. While he is at the school, he noticed “Fuck you” written in 2 places. He is infuriated by it.
“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.” – Chapter 25, page 204.
When she meets him, he tells her about his plans to escape. But it turns out that Phoebe has a huge impact on his decisions. What he ultimately does is for you to read and find out.
The Catcher in the Rye is a well written book that keeps the reader glued. It is difficult to put it down when once you have started reading it. It explores a variety of emotions in the life of a troubled adolescent and it projects these emotions so beautifully, that the reader can actually feel the feelings of Holden Caulfield. The book focuses on his loneliness, his confused state of mind, his mixed feelings and his love for his sister- Phoebe who has a great impact on his life and decisions. Though the book is full of mild to moderate swearing, far from frustrating the reader, it adds to its touch of realism. It helps in portraying the typical teenage troubled boy’s emotions and frustrations. It is truly a masterpiece by J.D Salinger and a must-read for people of all ages.
This book teaches the reader another important lesson – that troubled times will come to everyone and it takes courage to stand up for yourself and face the circumstances. It is easy to run away from it all and escape` but again there is always a choice between what is right and what is easy. Running away may be easy, but not always right.
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