Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951.

Plot Summary
Does this book have a plot? It seems that Holden Caulfield, the main character, is just killing time between getting kicked out of the latest prep school and going home to tell his family (and face the inevitable punishment). Holden hates phonies. The entire book is his point of view about the people he meets, how these people are phony, and how he believes himself to be true.

My Thoughts
It was my sophomore year in high school the first time I read this book. I had to get parental permission to do so. Perhaps that is why I thought I enjoyed it so much. Reading it now, however, I don't see the allure. When I finished the book, I checked my censorship files to see why it has been challenged. Yes, some "adult language" appears and there is a sexual reference, but I can't imagine controversy over this title today.

Holden is a contradiction. He says one thing and then refutes himself. However, I did enjoy some of his thoughts. For example, he states, "You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it (Salinger 11). I chuckled. As a teacher, I'm sure I do things students wish I wouldn't. I agreed with Holden when he says, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it (Salinger 18). I sometimes wish when I've finished a book, I could call up the author and discuss the book with them. Sadly, as I was reading this book, and purely by coincidence, J. D. Salinger died (Jan 27, 2010). Not that Salinger, being the recluse that he wanted to be, would have answered the phone to my call, but I do have some questions about this book I wish he could answer. One thing that Holden learns from a former teacher is "the mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a the mature man is that he wants to live humble for one" (Salinger 188). Being that Salinger served in WWII and wrote this, I wonder if these were his personal feelings about war.

Like Holden, we sometimes do want to escape from reality and go west to be a mute that doesn't have to have "useless conversations with anybody" (Salinger 198). However, most people do not fulfill this fantasy. Neither did Holden. We see at the end of the book what Holden's reality is and we realize that the entire book has been a "phony." Holden does leave us with some good advice: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (Salinger 214).

The title reference is on page 115 and 173.

Post Script: I found my original book from high school. Since I usually date my books, I saw that I reread this book one other time since high school (in 2000). I guess Holden just didn't impress me then, either.

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