The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
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.
I did not read this book in high school, like most people I've heard. But I picked it up due to it's presence on my 1001 Books list. I was intrigued by the book due to a reference from a movie with Julia Roberts and a rogue assassin (I still don't know what movie that was or that I remember it correctly) that I caught a glimpse of once. I thought it would have something to do with government conspiracies or something. Imagine my surprise.
I honestly don't really know what to think about the book. After I finished it, I was still trying to figure it out - and I felt as I did in high school with assigned reading, that I had missed something important. I even SparkNotes-ed it just to see. And apparently, I did miss part of it - because I was unsure of the significance of the catcher in the rye idea. But, anyway, I got most of it on my own, I guess.
I admire Salinger's writing. I truly felt that I had stepped inside a teenager's head. It did not feel artificial at all. It saddens me a little bit as to the idea that this is the teenager symbol of rebellion and alienation, yet I could never find a resolving, concluding point. It reminded me of the movie Rebel Without a Cause. It made me wish I had studied it in a high school or college English class, so I could see others point of view on the book.
Ultimately, I gave this book a 3/5 because I am glad I read it - but I can't see myself reading it again or picking it as a favorite. I can see why it is a classic, and I agree with the ideas of it being a symbol of teenage alienation. I only wish that there was a point that could encourage teenagers. I loved Holden's love of his sister, and I am truly glad the book did not end in suicide (as I thought it might). Me, being the pediatric nurse at heart, I wanted it to have a "fixing" quality that could speak to teenagers across the board. But I guess the simple idea that they are not alone in their alienation would be a point. I'm not really sure. I feel as though the book contained an underlying message that I missed. I'm glad I read it. Happy I can mark it off my list. I guess this is simple proof that I did not find my calling in literature. Good thing I'm a nurse not an English teacher.