Catcher in the Rye

Published in 1951, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is the only full-length written by the American author Jerome David Salinger. In 1948, he wrote the critically acclaimed short story named ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’, and then he chose to write a perfect fictional novel – ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ – which for most of the part turned out to be auto-biographical. It’s ironic that his ‘Perfect‘ novel pulled him into a number of controversies and criticisms for which he finally yielded and started living a secluded life. The book which was hailed as “an unusually brilliant first novel” by the New York Times continues to be a banned work in literature in many communities. Through his book, the author discusses a man & his life during his teenage in an informal tone. Though it’s very much true that ‘sexuality’ during adolescence is something which everybody experiences, most of Salinger’s critics turn it up into a matter of debate against him.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the novel, narrates in first person about his days between the end of fall school term and Christmas. The story begins with the sixteen year old Holden receiving a notice of his expulsion from the Prencey prep school, Pennsylvania. This is Holden’s fourth school since he had failed three others. By failing four of his five subjects, Holden helps himself only to be expelled from this school too. Since he is not scheduled to return back to his home for three days, he is left to kill time in his hostel. Holden’s narration of these three days explains everything about his character and the problem he faces as an adolescent.

Holden portrays a confused teenager who has everything: annoyance over other people’s advice, curiosity to discuss sex, disapproving others, getting irritated over others sexual display, confused about infatuation and love. His question about the ‘ducks in the Central Park lagoon during winter’ is a perfect example for his juvenile mind. This curiosity in him lies in every teenager, only that the question that they carry would be different. But nevertheless, everybody carries a question or rather a doubt with them, which lets the reader to empathize with Holden’s plight. While Holden is portrayed as a spoilt, confused adolescent, his sister Phoebe, whom Holden refers as ‘Old Phoebe’, is a pretty child with optimistic views about life.

Even Holden, who seems to be pessimistic and dismissive of everything, holds an optimistic view about living a secluded life away from the mundane world. His fantasy of just being a ‘Catcher in the Rye’, catching little children as they fall off during their play, is unbelievable off(of or off?) any other author. Anyone who reads through this particular conversation between Holden and Phoebe, will be left struck with awe, wondering about Holden’s innocence and one’s own childish inner self. The immature mind of Holden wants to do something at one point and quickly changes against doing it. These dilemmas, be it with a career changing decision or trivial moves in life, are a reality which everybody face in their lives. The circumstances in which Holden deals with these dilemmas are beautifully portrayed in words.

The last few pages of the novel tells the reader about the choice that Holden makes between his fantasy of living on his own and living the life with rules set in by the society. What transpires between Phoebe and Holden in the last chapter forms the zenith of this wonderful work wherein Holden realizes something which can’t be said, but should be read or rather felt! As a whole, the novel provides a wonderful read for those who still remember the helpless days that they faced as a teenager, for others this work might seem too philosophical.

S. Rengaswami

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