The Catcher in the Rye opens with the first-person narrative of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield’s experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Preparatory school.
Holden talks to you in his most casual ways about his classmates in Pencey irreverently, whom he criticizes as being superficial, or, as he would say, “phony”. Most notably pimpled-faced Ackley and self-centred Stradlater who is going out with Holden’s childhood friend, Jane Gallagher. After being expelled from the school for poor grades, except English language, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after an argument with his roommate, Stradlater. He takes a train to New York, but does not want to go home. Instead he checks into the dilapidated Edmont Hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls (of the three the blonde was the best dancer) and has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute. which he refuses to do anything with her. She demands more money than was originally agreed upon and when Holden refuses to pay he is beaten by her pimp, Maurice.
Holden spends a total of three days in the city, intoxicated and lonely. At one point he ends up at the natural history museum, where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos on display. He remembers fondly of his dead brother, all sweet and innocent Allie. He sneaks into his parents’ apartment while they are away in order to visit his younger sister, Phoebe, who is nearly the only person who loves and cares about him. Holden shares a fantasy he has been thinking about (based on a mishearing of Robert Burns’ Comin’ Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a “catcher in the rye”, thus the title of the book.
After leaving his parents’ apartment, with Phoebe’s Christmas money, Holden then drops by to see his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. Mr. Antolini tells Holden that
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
This fall I thik you’re riding for – it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men, who, at some time or other in their lives, were with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.
A paranoid scare of Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way he perceives as “flitty” while he was asleep send Holden packing. There is much speculation on whether Mr. Antolini was making a sexual advance on Holden, and it is left up to the reader whether this is true. He spends his last afternoon wandering the city. He later wonders if his interpretation of Mr. Antolini’s actions was correct. In my opinion, it was not.
The Catcher in the Rye is a delightful read. One you could finish in one sitting. It’s an honest (like the mention of knucklehead disciples of Jesus, and all they ever do is let Jesus down) and intimate account and you will feel as if you have known Holden for a lifetime. Through the eyes of Holden, all things that the 21st century adolescents perceived as cool is portrayed in this novel written way back in 1951. Back then it creates so much controversy for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst that it was banned. Though Holden adopts a cool style of disaffection about everything in life, deep down Holden is a decent boy. He loves his sister and brother. He wrote an essay about mitt for Stradlater while Stradlater went out and possibly make out with his childhood first crush. He was really endearing.
Salinger writes without much paragraphing. He is very imaginative and can make Holden digress and spend a page talking about a cheap briefcase, and how he hate cheap briefcase when he sees one, and surprisingly he wasn’t that turned off by cheap briefcase when the nuns carried it! Salinger admitted that the book is autobiographical and deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation. Any teenage boys who at one point in their lives arrived at a juncture where they felt similar awkwardness of being stranded between adolescence and adulthood, the dilemma of whether to join the rat race or to go off and live in seclusion and self sufficient in the country side, will most certainly identified with.
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin [in series 1946-7, in book form 1951, 1994]; Length: 192; Setting: America in 50’s. Finished reading at: 3 Jan 2010
About the Writer:
Jerome David “J. D.” Salinger (born January 1, 1919) aged 91, is an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. He has not published an original work since 1965 and has not been interviewed since 1980.
He was born in Manhattan, New York, on New Year’s Day, 1919. His mother, Marie Jillich, was half-Scottish and half-Irish. His father, Sol Salinger, was of Polish Jewish origin who sold kosher cheese. Salinger’s mother changed her name to Miriam and passed as Jewish. He had one sibling: his sister Doris (1911–2001).
Salinger began writing short stories while in secondary school, and published several stories in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 he published the critically acclaimed story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his subsequent work. In 1951 Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year. The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny: Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently.