On this day in 1951, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published. It is a novel about a restless 16-year-old named Holden Caulfield. He runs away from Pencey Prep School a few days before Christmas break. He wants to head west to California, and live a quiet life in a log cabin, away from all the “phonies.” At one point, Holden says, “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.”
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. I first read this in high school, assigned reading in 9th grade, but was so annoyed with Holden I hardly finished 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.