Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


The Catcher in the Rye—wow, how do you even start an analysis of the Salinger classic that most everyone is familiar with.

The first time I read The Catcher in the Rye, several years ago, I was expecting something disturbing. I had heard tales of how the book was found on the man who killed John Lennon and how Ronald Reagan’s assassin had been obsessed by it. And then I read it. There wasn’t any gore. It wasn’t the manifesto of some Unibomberesque sociopath. It reads as a conversational narrative by a frank high schooler. But I saw how Holden Caulfield could be a sympathetic character to those who perceive themselves to be outsiders because I think he relates to the outsider in each of us.

The second time I read this book, in the last couple of weeks, I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time, but with perhaps a little more appreciation for its literary elements. The book is timeless—aside from the popular vernacular of the time, the story could have happened today. The main character (Holden) is extremely critical of others while at the same time he exhibits the traits of all of the people who annoy him. He feels depressed, lonely and misunderstood in a way that is common to all of mankind, and it is only more pronounced because the reader gleans that he is rich (for a high school kid) and well-liked. Holden is an unreliable narrator—I didn’t realize that until the second read-through; he admits that he lies often and profusely, which leads one to question the veracity of some portions of his tale (for example, the classmate who had borrowed his turtleneck and then jumped out of a window). And until reading some analysis it hadn’t occurred to me that the whole book could be a conversation he is having with his therapist.

The Catcher in the Rye has been controversial since its first publication in the forties, due to the language that runs throughout the book as well as its depictions of sexuality. And yet it has been on (and off) high school reading lists since the sixties. It is the sort of book that, although no sentence in itself seems significant, I was left at the end feeling overwhelmed with Holden’s inner battle and wondering if he will find happiness, in a way that I wouldn’t normally feel about a fictional character. Holden feels like a little brother that I hope makes it through, and, because of that attachment, the book transcends the mundane and anchors its place among the classics, whose characters begin to feel like extended family.

5 comments:

Amanda said...

I think I need to read this book again. I read it in 2001 when my goal was a book a week, and nothing about it really caught my attention. Of course, I had an infant at the time, and moved across the country and later across the state, not to mention tons of other junk was happening, so the fact that I retained nothing from some of the books I read that year is not surprising. But people talk about this book a lot, and I never have anything useful to add because I can't remember anything at all about the book except a vague image of a guy standing at the corner of a building. Not helpful, huh?

Jason Gignac said...

At the risk of sounding like a git, I'lls ay that Holden is a sort of metaphor for all of America, this big collection of people, allw ealhy, isolated, unhappy, slowly escaping their national childhood, and moving into a position of responsibility in a world that they just aren't quite ready to lead. Quick to judge the faults of others, slow to see our own, just marvelously, secretly frightened that maybe we don't deserve what we have, despite wanting more.

Jen said...

Mandy, I think you would like it if you read it again. Having an infant is not conducive to thought, much less retention, of any kind.

Jason, I think you are eerily right with your analysis.

hamilcar barca said...

how many pages is TCITR? any book that year-after-year keeps landing on the Banned Books list has got to be worth reading. unless it's 600+ pages long.

Amanda said...

My copy's not too long, just over 200 pages.