“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 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.”
The book, The Catcher in the Rye starts with these no-nonsense words from the sixteen-year-old protagonist, Holden Caulfield. This line also became one of the most celebrated opening lines in the history of modern literature. The book became a form of expression of teenage angst, rebellion and disillusionment with the entire system that dogs us perpetually, through the process of growing up. It was written by J.D.Salinger and is semi-autobiographical.
The book is a first person account of the few days spent by Caulfield on his own after being expelled from the posh and ‘phony’ school, Pencey for flunking. It is a first person narrative as Caulfield talks to the readers directly. He has been lodged in a mental institution in California by the psychoanalyst. Caulfield leaves his hostel in the middle of the night following altercation with another ‘phony’ school mate and then takes the train to New York. He doesn’t go back home and instead decides to put up at a seedy hotel. The book is about these three unsettled, lonely days that he spends alone in the city. Within two weeks after its release in 1951, it shot to number one on The New York Times best-seller list, and stayed put there for thirty weeks.
Caulfield may not be a good role model, given his impulsiveness, beliefs bordering on arrogance and stubbornness and his lack of restraint for his actions. But the fact that he is human with shades of black, white and predominantly grey manages to convince the readers of how close to reality the character really is. He seems to be afraid of growing up, of seeing a world with no ounce of innocence left, with everything on the earth growing to become phonier. This sensitive side of him is clearly discernable when he talks about what he would do in life. He says,
“’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.”
The book was also one of the most opposed books of all times. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. There was a huge public outcry against the book by teachers and parents alike for its alleged pessimism and dark view of society that it led the youth to acquire. The character was criticised for being blasphemic, devoid of family values, morally weak, verbally abusive. The novel also came under fire for its use of abuses and ‘promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity’. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the thirteenth most frequently challenged book from 1990–2000. It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, and came off the list in 2006. All this only increased the appeal of this book and led to it figuring in the must-read lists of teenagers and young adolescents not only in America but across the world.
It has remained immensely popular even after all these years, especially among teenagers and young adults, largely because of its fresh, brash style and anti-establishment attitudes which mirror and similar sentiments and echoes similar psychological turmoil and dilemmas. For a lot of people who have related and connected with this book, Caulfield’s misdirection and sense of a wasted youth, doesn’t stand for rebellion or teenage penchant for using profanity nor shallow exterior or perceived indifference. For us, he stands for all the emptiness we feel when we witness how fake everything is, he stands for all the thoughts we wanted to let out but didn’t, for the story most of us had within ourselves but which we didn’t put on paper.
[Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/kohler/132357663/]