This wasn’t on my list of things to read next – now that I’m back home, I have access to a place of employment that lets me borrow books! But, a friend pushed this into my hands, and since I’d never read it, and since it is something that I had, one day, planned on reading, I figured now was as good a time as any.
Holden Caulfield has just been kicked out of his latest boarding school, and instead of going straight home, he decides to run away from school, back to his home town, New York, and play in the city for a few days, in the hope of delaying the inevitable – his parents finding out about his expulsion. Holden is sick and tired of the phoniness of the people who inhabit the school, and he can’t deal with it any longer. His time in New York, however, is not as idyllic as he had hoped, and his experiences there leave him just as confused with humanity as his school did.
I guess I’ll start with some other reactions to this, let’s face, seminal (I’ve always wanted to use that word on this blog…) novel. It constantly pops up on banned book lists for a variety of bizarre reasons – including ‘encouragement of rebellion’ and ‘Holden’s being a poor role model’. Granted, the language is a bit raunchy – though my (highly accurate) tally shows that ‘goddamn’ is the most common profanity, and other, more useful ones, are barely used. It seems odd to attack a novel that so perfectly, and so sensitively, captures what it means to be adolescent, and the problems that are constantly running through your head at every minute of every day.
This is, I think, the greatest strength of this novel. Sure, the language is great to read – refreshingly conversational and colloquial, but the ability to get inside Holden’s mind is an amazing skill that only Salinger himself could possess, no doubt because books like this are often based on authors themselves. Holden is clearly a mask for Salinger, who sees the world around him as full of people who are far more obsessed with society, and those around them, than what really matters. And what’s great about this is the arbitrary nature that Holden uses to define what is important and what isn’t. It is almost on a whim that he will judge someone to be worthy, though in the end, there’s really only one character who is – his younger sister, Phoebe. Holden sees everyone else through the eyes of a sixteen year old misogynist, who refuses to see the good in everyone. And we’ve all been there, all had stages where we thought that everyone else was stupid, and only we could truly understand. It’s called being a teenager. Somehow, Salinger makes it perfect. You sometimes want to slap Holden in the face, but at the same time, you totally and fully understand exactly how he feels.
The ending is weird. Just throwing it out there. And I’m going to talk about it, so look away if you haven’t read the novel. Or don’t. Whatever. Maybe because I was rushing through it as my lunch break rapidly came to an end, but I still don’t get why Holden had to be hospitalised. I genuinely do not think there’s any need for it. He’s understood that there is something to live for, and he knows that he can’t run away from his problems. Maybe he just needs to calm down. I don’t know.
I don’t quite know what I was expecting from The Catcher in the Rye. Not what I got, that’s for sure. Which, in a way, is the best way to approach a novel. I was pleasantly surprised that a book with such a reputation actually lives up to it. Go and read this now if you haven’t – before you get too old and phoney.