Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

Emily H.

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about growing up, told from the point of view of a rebellious teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, who is in a mental hospital.

Holden Caulfield, the novels protagonist, is the worst character in the entire book. He thinks that everyone is just fake. He does not even try to dig deeper and find out about others real and true selves. He thinks that the façade that people put on for the outside world is their actual, true self. When Holden meets a person, he judges them instantly. He is so negative, not even trying to find positive things in the world. Negativity is normal for everyone, life sometimes benefits from the negative moments. But life also benefits from being happy and being positive. To Holden, everyone is artificial. And that’s what will ruin him.  The novel is a huge black hole of Holden, sucking everything decent inside and spiting it back out as something negative. Holden’s view of the world is nothing but darkness.

Holden has given up. He cares about nothing, except for his sister, Phoebe. Phoebe is the most important character in this novel. She is not the narrator, and she only shows up about half way through the book. But out of all the people who help, or hurt, Holden, she is the most important. She teaches Holden about maturity and that all people mature at their own rate. All throughout the book, Holden is very negative. When he thinks about Phoebe though, all negative things seem to disappear. Salinger may not portray young adult characters well, but he does depict a healthy relationship between a brother and a sister.  The great thing that Salinger shows is that even when Phoebe can comprehend some of the deeper concepts that Holden burdens her with, she still doesn’t understand everything.  This shows that she is still a ten year old at heart.  Everyone needs a Phoebe in their life, keeping them saner. Holden is mentally healthier because he has Phoebe.

J. D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye from the point of view of Holden Caulfield and that detracts a great deal from the story. Holden is an unreliable narrator, except, it isn’t Holden who is the unreliable narrator. It is Salinger who is the unreliable one.  Holden may be what the story is about, and the one who tells it, but Salinger is the one writing it. He is the one who puts the words in Holden’s mouth, showing that Salinger is a defective source.  This puts a huge damper on the book, because if Salinger can’t make his main character trust worthy, why should the rest of the book be reliable?

The Catcher in the Rye deserves to be an A-list book because it tells a compelling tale of a conflicted youth who is trying to figure himself out and find his place in the world.  This novel may be one of the best coming-of-age books out there.  It is definitely not the normal coming-of-age novel, where the character starts out in turmoil, but in the end gets through it with virtue and perseverance.  Salinger seems to discard that idea and that adds a special twist to the book.  Salinger has Holden start out in turmoil and end in a slightly less chaotic place emotionally.  Since Salinger doesn’t try to spoon-feed the reader a happy ending, this makes this novel more true to real life.  This book may not be the most action-filled, but in 50 years people will still be reading it because Salinger shows what growing up is really like.  He shows that life can be challenging sometimes, and that is what makes it even more fulfilling, interesting, engaging.

The Catcher in the Rye may not be the best written book, and it cannot keep readers hooked, but it does bring up a very important issue.  Holden is like many other people his age who hate the “institution” and think all adults are out to make them lose their childhood.  Holden is of this mind, and that is why he resents the adult world and resists maturity.  Unfortunately, Holden has little or no choice.  Society and his own body are pushing him to enter the adult world, making it very confusing and challenging.  Holden is attracted to the ideas of adulthood: drugs, booze, cigarettes, and sex.  However, he despises the metamorphosis he will have to undergo to get these things: lose his innocence and integrity.  Holden’s conflicting fears and desires are understandable and normal, though the way he deals with it, avoiding reality and change altogether, is impossible.  Life is continual change, no matter what.

 

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