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[245] The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

“Oh…well, about life being a game and all. And how you should play it according to the rules . . . If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot shots, then what’s a game about it?” [8]

The Catch in the Rye follows Holden Caulfield over the course of three days after he leaves Pencey Prep before he goes home in New York. He’s a borderline teenager from wealthy, privileged family who is flunking out of school. He decides to take a break in Manhattan while his parents digest the news of his expulsion before his scheduled arrival home for Christmas holiday. With no clue of what he wants to do, he takes up a hotel room and relapses into drunkenness and loneliness. Holden might be flighty, whiny, people-hating, and snobbish, but he is not a bad bunch, rather someone who is stuck.

My father’s quite wealthy, though. I don’t know how much he makes—he’s never discussed that stuff with me . . . He’s a corporation lawyer. Those boys really haul it in . . . My mother hasn’t felt too healthy since my brother Allie died. She’s very nervous. That’s another reason why I hated like hell for her to know how I got the ax again. [107]

The death of his brother might be the wake-up call for him to change but at the same time he rebels his being raised to be an alpha-male that embodies hypocrisies, double-standard, and snobbishness. He doesn’t want to be like a big-shot. That is the reason why his school, which prepares young men to become like big-shots, revolts him. The potty-mouthed Holden Caulfield impeccably lives up to the Chinese saying: hate the rich and dread the poor. The only person who actually nails the truth about him is Holden’s sister Phoebe, a precocious fourth grader who knows her brother like the back of her hand.

You don’t like anything that’s happening . . . Because you don’t. You don’t like any schools. You don’t like a million things. [169]

I’m not surprised when he confides in Phoebe that he wants to be the protector of children from falling off the cliff as they run out of the rye, an idea adopted from a Robert Burns poem. As eclectic and random as it may sound, it complies with Holden’s belief against the notion that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. The donation he makes to the nuns, the episode with the prostitute (in which he only wants to talk to her) are tell-tale sign of his good conscience. Though he is not a completely reliable narrator, especially when he dreams the miserable ends of those who are “burgeois as hell” and his own funeral, he is a unique voice in American literature. Written in a raw, colloquial style, The Catcher in the Rye hangs over a sense of caprice with which Holden Caulfield improvises his random encounter with people from school. He is utterly lonely because I do not recall more than a couple occasions when he mentions friends.

251 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

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20 Responses

  1. You’ve made me want to re-read this one again … it’s been way too long. Great review!

  2. I first tried to read this in high school, but was so annoyed with Holden I didn’t finish it. When I was in high school I had this idea that I wanted to go to boarding school and I felt that Holden wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities open to him. I know better now, as a gay kid I would have had a terrible time at a boy’s boarding school.

    In college I tried again, and ended up loving it.

    If you haven’t seen the film Six Degrees of Separation (one of my faves of all time) it has a Catcher in the Rye theme in it–and Stockard Channing is breathtaking in the film.

    • Holden is not an easy character to like! But he does embrace a lot of qualities, good and bad, of the evoking generation of the time. I guess what makes this book a classic, despite the informal language, is that it bears contemporary relevance.

      Oh, I will take your word for Six Degrees of Separation, which I have heard so much but heve never got around to watch.

  3. I saw Holden as lonely and depressed. You are right about him not really having any friends. And you are spot on about his sister Phoebe. She is quite insightful for a little girl.

    • His interaction and relationship with Phoebe make me cry. In a way I felt that Phoebe was the one who kept him from falling off that “cliff” in his life.

  4. I loved this when I was 13 or 14. I do think it’s more effective if read at that age. Holden has a wonderful voice.

  5. I read this ages ago but have absolutely no recollection of the story, which is really weird and so has been assigned a TBR.

  6. I sadly really didnt gel with this book. Its such a classic I was mortified, maybe it was the timing or something.

  7. I read this a while ago and was so-so on it. I liked reading your thoughts on this one and it did make me think about a few things.

  8. I read this when I was a teenager, and I loved it and went on to read all of Salinger as fast as I could.
    But you made me realized that was a long time ago and I really need to reread it and see if I still feel the same way about it.

  9. […] God by Zora Neale Hurston, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. […]

  10. […] to them—they’re beyond confused. The back of the book pronounces that this novel is The Catcher in the Rye for the MTV generation. Neither of the two is lofty in words. If The Catcher in the Rye is […]

  11. […] read and have long forgotten. One book in particular of which the appeal has faded over the years: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I’ve read it three times over the year, first required in 9th grade. It […]

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