The Catcher in the Rye is a book that was on my to-read list for a very long time. Alternately banned in some schools because of its profanity and assigned in English classes at others because of its literary status, it’s a classic 20th century novel that I somehow never had to read in any of my American literature courses.

Having read it, I can see its influence on loads of books and movies. For instance, the 1992 film Scent of a Woman (which my husband was watching just this weekend) has the fragrance of The Catcher in the Rye all over it, partly in its private prep school and Manhattan settings but also in its themes of trauma, alienation, and rebellion. I’d probably see the book’s influence on The Dead Poets’ Society, were I to watch it again after so many years, and I can certainly see more than a little Holden Caulfield in Jack, the protagonist of Fight Club.

So, the book has been massively influential since it was published in 1951.

I just wished the book were a little better.

Holden Caulfield is rich, disaffected white boy with PTSD who has just flunked out of prep school for the third time. Too cowardly to face his parents, he blows his money in a long weekend in New York City, tries to pick up girls, and fumes about phonies while he behaves in an utterly phony fashion to practically everyone he meets. Finally, he’s broke and has no place else to go, so he sneaks into his parents’ luxurious apartment and talks to his kid sister Phoebe, who is the only person alive in the world he genuinely loves and cares about. When his parents come home, he hides in her closet and then seeks refuge at the house of a former teacher, but leaves when the older man makes a pass at him. Holden plans to run away into the wilderness, but when his little sister tries to follow him, he becomes worried about her future, and tells her he’ll stay. At that point, the reader realizes that Holden has grown up just a smidge, and we can hope that his paternal concern may lead to him getting a clue and becoming something other than an embittered, alcoholic slacker.

That is certainly a plot. The problem is, it’s not really enough actual story to carry a novel of this size. Catcher would have been a great novella at half the length; as it is now, I can see the seams where Salinger stitched together his short stories to make the book. The parts that began as magazine stories are tight and shine; the narrative he used to fill out the book frequently meanders and seems dull.

But we’re talking about literature, and most literary novels don’t need an overabundance of plot, do they? If a book doesn’t offer a decent story, it can ride along fine on stylish writing and compelling characters.  Given that the book is written in the voice of a narcissistic teenaged boy, we’re pretty short on lovely writing here, and so almost by default Catcher works best as a character study of Holden.

Unfortunately I was sick of Holden ten pages into the book (probably, I grew sick of him before I even got the book, because I have seen and read a hundred different reincarnations of his character over the years). He becomes somewhat more sympathetic as the narrative moves along and we discover that he’s acting out because he’s been traumatized by the death of his brother, the violent death of a classmate, and by his own molestation. But having PTSD doesn’t give you a pass on trying to be a decent person, and for most of the book Holden is a hypocrite and liar whose greatest claim to heroism is that he’s never raped anyone. His big-city adventures seem tame and a bit weak to the modern reader. Although they surely must have seemed racy in 1951, in 2014, he’s more likely to come off as a young version of Fight Club’s Jack without a Tyler Durden alter ego to make him interesting. Toward the end of the book when he finally has his scenes with his kid sister, he finally starts to behave like a decent human being, and those were my favorite scenes in the book ... but if I’d started Catcher purely for my own purposes, I’d have abandoned it well before then.

It didn’t help that Holden’s voice kept throwing me out of the narrative. The repetitiveness of his speech patterns went beyond establishing character and almost made him seem like a caricature in early chapters, and I found myself wondering if teenagers of that era would really talk that way. But apparently they did, all of them running around sounding like adolescent Harlan Ellisons. I’m sure teenagers now would find him hard to relate to because of his corny diction, and in fact my schoolteacher acquaintances report that Catcher is not as frequently assigned in school as it used to be for that very reason.

But in the past, generations of upper- and middle-class white boys read Catcher and found a kindred spirit in Holden. It’s the core demographic that most working writers and filmmakers emerge from. So it’s no surprise that we can see shadows of Catcher in so many other works that also feature white male protagonists and their oh-so-worthy personal struggles against a world that handed them unasked-for responsibilities along with unearned affluence and status.

I wondered, briefly, if I failed to fully appreciate Catcher because I’m too goddamn old. Holden’s mom was probably younger than I am now, for chrissakes. So I thought back to my teenage self. Hey, I was walking around with PTSD, too! And I was the whitest kid you ever met. So surely I’d see a fictional soul mate in Holden, right?

I communed with Teen Lucy. Remembered how she would have killed to be able to go to a good private school instead of a small-town public school and dreamed of being able to afford just one trip to Manhattan with a cheap, beat-up suitcase.

I’m pretty sure I’d have wanted to sock Holden right in his lousy whining little mouth.

The Catcher in the Rye is a coming of age tale based in New England (primarily New York). It is about a young man named Holden Caulfield. Holden is sixteen and is enrolled in a boarding school named Pency Prep. His parents sent him to boarding school after he repetitively failed his classes at his old school in New York where the family lived.

The story takes place in the early nineteen thirties. The location of the story changes as Holden leaves his school behind and goes back to New York where his family lives, only he doesn't go home to his family he stays at hotels and lives on his own for a week.

Holden is not like all the other men attend bring Pency Prep. He usually gets along with them but is very much a loner, especially when it comes to social events. He doesn't like the way people treat each other and he would rather live away from people out in the middle of nowhere. He likes for his environment to be simple and peaceful. He is, however, an avid conversationalist and most people enjoy his company.

Ackley is one of Holden's classmates. He is not what you would call one of the popular students. He has bad acne and hygiene. He is also rude without knowing that he is being so. Other than those bad traits Holden knows Ackley as a nice sincere guy.

Ward Stradlater was another of Holden's classmates. He was known for being athletic and a popular guy with the ladies. Stradlater was often caught by Holden admiring himself in the mirror of the room he shared with Holden. Ward loathed the company of Ackley and would heckle him to the point of conflict. Ackley, however, being a calm man, always declined to raise a fist at such confrontation.

Phoebe Caulfield is Holden's little sister and the only person he confides in. She is a young girl but according to Holden she is very mature. She often tells Holden of his mistakes and calms him when he is angry.

In one instance Holden meets the mother of one of his classmate's mothers on a train to New York. She asks about her son and Holden tells her "He's a swell guy and he will do very well at Pency," but in reality Holden can't stand the company of her son. He thinks that the young man is overly arrogant and Holden tries to avoid him when he sees him. This demonstrates Holden's distaste for the society he lives in but also how he is a compassionate man and would lie for the benefit of someone he doesn't even like.

Holden, at many times in the book looks back to his past and thinks of how life used to be a joyous thing in which his ignorance of the goings on around him allowed him to be happy. In one occasion he thinks of how him and his sister used to skate around Central Park and how they would laugh and play all day not having a care in the world. Then he wonders if life could be that happy again if he were to go somewhere secluded and live without having to worry about what other people did and how they treated him. At that point he decides to leave his school and go to New York, to a part of town where no knows him so he can see if he can enjoy life with out people bothering him. After he has many mis-adventures (some of which aren't suitable to be discussed in an English report) he decides that for his idea of seclusion to work he would have to be away from all people not just people he knew, and by that time he is lonely so he tries to contact his sister without letting his parents know that he is not in school.

Many people have tried to look for a deeper meaning in the story and have found that it tries to illustrate a reclusive or anarchist tendency in the main character, but even if you don't look that deep it is a classic coming of age tale. The story has shown me that some things you will not understand until you take care of yourself and are not dependent upon anything. It also means to me that in everyone's life there comes a turning point where an adolescent becomes a reliable and responsible adult.

"Mr. And Mrs. Antolini had this very swanky apartment over on Sutton Place, with two steps that you go down to get in the living room, and a bar and all." Holden always notices people with too many luxuries and it seems like a waste to him. He feels as thought too many luxuries make life too complicated. He enjoys a simple environment. This book to me makes a lot of sense and I identify with Holden on most of his opinions. It seems like J.D. Salinger wrote this book about me.

For those of you who never read the book and were curious about the title, or those who read it a long time ago and forgot, here's the passage behind it:

'Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. and I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye. I know it; I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy.'
-Holden Caulfield
I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school, and thought it interesting. Not great, mind you, but interesting nevertheless.

I knew it was one of the most frequently banned books, then, long before it was one of The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990s--it has quite a venerable history.

But the question on my mind, was always Why?

I remember asking my English teacher, he had a difficult time with this, and the only thing he could come up with, was that Holden Caulfield was alienated, among other things.

I thought that was curious, because I was. In fact, it seemed to me many of my peers were alienated as well.

Which brings an interesting thought to mind: The right may want to ban this book because it presents the image of something they do not want in their young, but it is. And if those young who are, might find some control of their alienated lives if they could see themselves, as they are, in fiction, a kind of externalization.

Isn't this one of the time-honored purposes of literature and art?

But the right will have none of this--and thereby perpetuate the very things they deplore.

An irony only those on the left can appreciate.

More about the title:

Holden tells his little sister that he wants to be a "catcher in the rye" (in the passage quoted above by prole), but this is not really his goal in life. Holden basically bullshits everyone - he is going out West to be a cowboy, or up North to Vermont where he'll cut his own wood. But he won't do any of these things. He got the idea for being a catcher in the rye because he heard a little boy singing Comin Thro' the Rye incorrectly: "When a body catch a body/Comin thro' the rye" - even Holden's little sister knows it's wrong. It should be "When a body meet a body."

The point, I guess, is that Holden's BS does not stand up very well. Neither does Holden, for that matter.

The thing that surprised me most about this book is that Holden is rich. He is not without social graces, either: he is a good dancer, he knows how to make people happy. He is not really free, either. He is just screwing around in the few days before his parents find out he's been kicked out of school. And he doesn't really *do* anything, either. He's no Ferris Bueller.

In the end, he gets himself sick, soaked to the skin, probably so his parents won't give him too much hell.

I think the reason the book appealed to some celebrity killers is that Holden's life is going nowhere, but there is a speech near the end in which his old teacher tells him that he could die nobly for an unworthy cause. That's probably what lights the light bulb in their whacked out little heads.

You may never truly understand why The Catcher in the Rye is acclaimed as one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.

It has nothing to do with your level intelligence, education, degree of appreciation for literature, age, sex, religion, race, background or upbringing. It's not bad thing if you don't get it. It's not like an eleven-year-old saying that Shakespeare is stupid because of all of the words he or she doesn't understand. I'll do my best to explain. The deciding factor is whether or not there exists an imbalance of chemicals within your brain that leads to... you guessed it, depression.

Catcher isn't a social commentary. I've heard people that think that they understand the book a thousand times say that it is. I had a teacher try to wrestle the suggested questions and discussions in her teacher's edition into that perspective. It didn't work too well. If you want an example of a social commentary, take something like A Clockwork Orange.

Holden Caulfield is a young man who simply can't find anything that makes him feel good. His subconscious is acutely aware of this, but he isn't. Holden isn't a misfit or a troublemaker, he's actually a pretty nice kid. He's not melodramatic and self-pitying either. The major re-occuring theme in the book is that Holden makes an honest effort to do something that he subconsciously hopes will help him find meaning, or at the worst allow him to enjoy himself. But guess what? Nothing does. No matter how hard he tries, Holden gets nothing back. At the end of the story (the beginning of the book) he's institutionalized.

The reason that Holden keeps calling people "phony" isn't because they seek social status, wear expensive clothes or lie about their achievements, like superficial people do. It's because Holden looks out at the world and sees that most of the world doesn't really have the problems he does. Most of the world looks pretty "happy" and doesn't need to do all of the soul-searching he does. He doesn't know this explicitly, but he gets a strong feeling about it. Not understanding that he is different than most others, he subconsciously reasons that they're all faking their contentness with their lives-- hence "phonies". Of course, the truth is the opposite; everyone else is pretty okay and Holden is the one holding up a facade of normalcy.

You see, most people don't have trouble being "happy" or comfortable with themselves. Some people need a little more. That's what religion does for a lot of people... it's the boost they need. Some people need medication. Some people need to have a signifigant other who is the same way that they are to depend on. Some need even more than that, like to live in a Buddhist monastary. Some people look for temporary solutions, like drugs, sex or violence. Some people, like poor Holden, never find what they need. For some people, it may not exist at all.*

* For those of you who don't believe that there are people who can never find stability, you're more than welcome to have your own beliefs, but did you know that approximately two percent of the schizophrenic population cannot be effectively treated with any known method at all?

The theme of childhood is spread throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Whether it is of childhood lost or the desire for childhood to disappear as quickly as possible, it’s always an inescapable matter in the book.

Sunny is a good example of childhood lost. The reader isn’t told what background Sunny comes from, or why she became a prostitute, we just know that she’s very young and immature, but doing an adult thing. She scares Holden not because she’s a prostitute, or because she’s too forward with him, it’s because she’s his own age. He thinks that it’s very sad and pathetic that she has become like this, and it shows him that being an adult and having to face some ugly things aren’t that all great.

this was part of an essay I wrote called "Holden Fucking Caulfield". Yeah, I said FUCK.

An important theme of The Catcher In The Rye is Holden's elusive quest for happiness, and this means for him, his past. He is always in a state of discontent in the present so he thinks that what he has already done wasnt too bad compared to how he feels all the time. There are different opinions as to whether he wasnt always depressed, and just became that way after the death of his younger brother Allie. This is hinted through several subtleties, and also through several obvious examples. The theme is brought to attention by the fact that Holden pines for the past, he rarely enjoys anything in the present tense, but a few weeks, months, or years later he finds himself wishing to be back in that position, and this must make him feel like he is going constantly downhill into almost a state of limbo because of his emptiness. My favorite quote from the book is "Don't ever tell anyone anything. If you do, you start to miss everybody". This is at the end of the book when Holden seems to be working out some of his problems, he knows that nothing can ever be as beautiful as it might seem.

I think Holden wanted to be an optimist, but kept getting confounded at every turn.

From The Catcher in the Rye, pp.202:
"I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another 'Fuck you' on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn't come off. It's hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the 'Fuck you' signs in the world. It's impossible."

From The Catcher in the Rye, pp.204:
"That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write 'Fuck you' right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetary, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say 'Holden Caulfield' on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say 'Fuck you.' I'm positive, in fact."

This passage, I believe, has the most telling detail of Holden's inner life than any other from the entire book- the bit where he says "...if I ever die..." as opposed to, "...when I die."

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