Review: ‘Catcher in the Rye’

the_catcher_in_the_rye.large my edition

Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

Note: First, I’d like to apologize for being super lame lately and ignoring this poor little blog. June has been absolutely bananas when it comes to the intersection of grad school + work + major life events. It seems that every week I’ve had some major assignment due, but very little time to work on those assignments outside of work (I’m basically working 40 hours now) and various “events”, including a wedding, bachelorette party, baby shower, etc. (all of which were out of state). Anyway, blogging and a few other things (roller derby, working out, eating right) took a back seat as I scrambled to get everything done. Thus, this review is VERY, VERY late and I apologize for that. Luckily, my busy schedule means I haven’t finished another book since, so I’m not too behind on reviews.

  • Date finished: ?? – I believe during the first week of June, though I can’t be exactly sure.
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1951
  • Project: Revisiting the Classics Project
  • Reading List: Summer 2013
  • Grade: B-
  • Thoughts upon reading:

The reason I chose The Catcher in the Rye for this project was because like many American young people, I read this book for a high school English class. I, however, did not fall in love with the book; in fact, it annoyed me. Holden Caulfield was just soooo whiny, and whatever Holden was complaining about, well, that’s not what saavy 16-year-olds like myself thought about anyway. Duh. And so, my “expert” analysis of this text was to write it off, believing that since Salinger wasn’t “changing my life,” I was actually smarter than my teen peers.

Or, something like that. As the years went on, though, I began to wonder: did I really not like The Catcher in the Rye because I truly didn’t like/relate to it? Or, was I simply not liking it because I thought that would make me appear cooler/smarter than I actually was? And so I tackled it as a 26-year-old (10 years later…I like that), and this is what I found:

  • There is still something very annoying about this book, although I think now that it’s Salinger’s pace and syntax. The way Holden talks is also a little foreign – and let’s not lie, a little grating. In fact, I’d say if I knew someone like Holden Caulfield, I’d appropriately dub him a “little shit.”
  • That being said, I found myself not annoyed at Holden, but feeling really bad for him. The kid obviously has some sort of mental disorder – probably depression – and he’s dealing with some very real, raw emotions all by himself and with relatively little support from the adults in his life. True, several adults try to help him throughout the book, but they seem to want to steer Holden back into the prescribed path all “good boys” are supposed to follow instead of actually listening to what he has to say.
  • Because the point that Holden is trying to communicate throughout The Catcher in the Rye is that it’s not that he can’t follow this path everyone expects of him – it’s that this path is wrong. It’s artificial, it’s a phony. It’s meaningless. It produces vapid individuals who will go on to live similarly meaningless lives. Holden obviously has some coping issues, which is why he rejects so much outright – and thus appears annoying and self-centered. However, his reasons are very real and represent an intuitive cultural observation.
  • For that reason, I found the story behind the title strangely touching. His little sister, annoyed one day, asks Holden what he wants to do with his life. Holden says that when he thinks about being a grown up, he imagines himself in a field of rye, where a bunch of children are playing. It’s his job, he says, to catch those kids before they accidentally run off a cliff. Holden is clinging to the innocence of youth, knowing that growing up requires a lot of uncomfortable and disquieting compromises. In the end, he is physically and mentally unable to deal with this transition in himself and must be sent away to a mental institution.

In the end, I’d have to say that The Catcher in the Rye, on the second go-around, wasn’t that bad at all. It definitely wasn’t the meaningless drivel I thought it was when I was in high school, and if I had given it at least half a chance, I might have learned something.  Still, the book itself is a little annoying, and it’s definitely not something I’d want to read over and over again. I can only deal with Holden Caulfield for so long.

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