AUTHOR: J.D Salinger LANGUAGE: English
COUNTRY: United States GENRE: Realistic Fiction
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company PUBLISHING DATE: July 16, 1951
COVER ARTIST: E. Michael Mitchell OCLC: 287628
Central Characters: Holden Caulfield (the protagonist and narrator of the novel), Stradlater (Holden’s roommate), Jane Gallagher, Phoebe Caulfield (Holden’s ten-year-old sister), Allie Caulfield (Holden’s younger brother).
THE PLOT: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
“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 and all 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. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”
His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
REVIEW: J. D. Salinger presents an image of an atypical adolescent boy in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is much more than a troubled teen going through “a phase.” Indeed Holden is a very special boy with special needs.
Holden, unlike the usual fictional teenager, doesn’t expresses normal rebellion. He distrusts his teachers and parents not because he wants to separate himself from them, but because he can’t understand them. In fact there is little in the world that he does understand. The only people he trusts and respects are Allie, his deceased brother, and Phoebe, his younger sister. Everyone else is a phony of some sort. Holden uses the word phony to identify everything in the world which he rejects. He rejects his roommate Stradlater because Stradlater doesn’t value the memories so dear to Holden (Allie’s baseball glove and Jane’s kings in the back row). Even Ernie, the piano player, is phony because he’s too skillful. Holden automatically associates skill with arrogance (from past experiences no doubt) and thus can’t separate the two. Even Holden’s most trusted teacher, Mr. Antolini, proves to be a phony when he attempts to fondle Holden. Thus the poor boy is left with a cluster of memories, some good but most bad.
Yet because of these memories, Holden has developed the unique ability to speak candidly (though not articulately) about the people he meets. Though he seems very skeptical about the world, he is really just bewildered. His vocabulary often makes him seem hard, but in fact he is a very weak-willed individual. Holden has no concept of pain, and often likes to see himself as a martyr for a worthy cause. This is proven after the fight with Maurice, after which he imagines his guts spilling out on the floor.
The end of the book demonstrates significant growth on the part of Holden. Although at first Holden is quick to condemn those around him as phony (like Stradlater and Ackley), his more recent encounters with others prove that he is becoming more tolerant and less judgmental. This is evidenced after the ordeal with Mr. Antolini, where Holden is determined not to make any conclusions about his teacher. This growth contributes to Holden’s fantasy of being a catcher in the rye. Despite his inability and fear of becoming an adult, he has found his role in keeping the innocence of other children protected. This is shown when he tries to scratch out the obscenities at Phoebe’s elementary school. He imagines himself on a cliff, catching innocent children (like himself at one time) who accidently fall off the cliff, bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood.