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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]