The Catcher in the Rye
Mention The Catcher in the Rye and you’re likely to get one of two reactions: loved it or hated it. I’ve read this story three times now and each time, I’ve loved it. I know a lot of high school kids groan when you mention Holden Caulfield and I get that because, in some ways, I don’t think he’s relatable to modern teenagers. The boarding school and wealthy Manhattan experiences are not something typical high schoolers connect with. But I think his character’s troubled emotions and vulnerability evoke a sympathy that everyone can see.
The story takes place sometime after World War II at Pencey Prep, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. It is narrated by Holden Caufield, a troubled sixteen-year-old student who has flunked every class except English, and has just been kicked out of Pencey. The headmaster has mailed the letter, notifying his parents, but in the interim, Holden moves in a sort of limbo. Something has made him not care, on the surface, but as you get to know Holden, you realize the weight of his depression and how deeply he cares about people in his life, especially his siblings and a girl he knows from summers in Maine.
With a few days before his parents find out, Holden bounces between reckless impulses, and he’s on a dangerous spiral, all the while giving the reader glimpses of who he is and the relationships that are important to him. He’s a skilled liar, making things up, as a lark, or to avoid facing his reality.
Every time I read Holden’s story, I can see him unraveling, word by word, and I’m struck by how clearly he sees through the phoniness that surrounds him. He’s particularly bothered by his brother’s decision to become a Hollywood writer, something he sees as a sell-out. In addition, he seethes inwardly as his roommate, Stradlater, moves about their room in an air of conceit and privilege. When Stradlater talks about his date with a girl Holden knows, he can’t even bother to get her name right. “It’s Jane, not Jean,” Holden wants to tell Stradlater, but he knows his roommate won’t care.
Holden talks about his friendship with Jane, a girl he met in Maine and has comforted, held hands with and feels most himself around. “That doesn’t sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with.” Equally important is Holden’s relationship with his brother Allie, who died when they were kids, and his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, who both needs Holden and props him up enough to give him hope.
It doesn’t seem as if anyone can see that Holden is headed for a crash, or it might be that they can do nothing to stop him. I don’t get mad at him for his reckless decisions. I only want someone to catch him.
If you’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye, I’d give it a try. And if you’ve already read it, leave a comment and tell me what you think!
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