Written in 1951 by J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye is a book that offers a powerful discussion of morality that the world of adults upholds to. It is a novel about an angst-driven teenager, his search for what is right and wrong, and his thoughts on the artificial and unnatural world of adults and the lost innocence of the childhood. Although the book was published over 60 years ago, it still appeals to both rebellious adolescents who are struggling to find their identity and intellectuals who are criticizing the values of the corporate society.
The story is centered around the 17-year-old Holden Caulfield who recalls the events of three days from December, during which he decides to quit his studies at a prestigious boarding school Pencey Preparatory and spends time in New York indulged in the world of “phonies.” After a fight with his roommate who might have taken advantage of the girl Holden cares for, the boy leaves his school and goes to the Big Apple to stay at a cheap hotel, in order to avoid coming back home where his parents are waiting for him on Christmas. In New York, he dons a role of an adult, gets drunk, orders a prostitute, and gets beaten by her pimp in his hotel room.
The Catcher in the Rye is full of satire and sarcasm towards the American society of the mid-20th century. Through the use of specific colloquialisms, the author has managed to create a feel of time and sense of relatedness with the characters, Holden Caulfield in particular. Salinger confessed that he was friendly with children at the time of writing the novel, which is why he understood the child’s (or adolescent, to be more precise) mind extremely well. This is why, although the reader might have contempt for Holden at the beginning of the book, since his rebellious nature drove him into constant conflicts, he or she develops a strong sympathy for this “antihero.”
The most sincere moment of the book is when Holden Caulfield sneaks into his little sister’s room — secretly from his parents — and tells her he would love to be “a catcher in the rye,” the one who rescues little children when they are about to jump off the cliff in the rye field. While Holden is a reckless nonconformist, he is filled with longing for different characters from his life towards whom he used to have nothing but loathing, such as his roommate or the pimp. This way, we see the boy as both humane and naive — a child that has not yet fallen over the cliff.
J.D. Salinger died in 2010, after over half a century since the book was written. He led a reclusive life, and the attempts of journalists and publishers to approach him on the matter of his current works were not successful; TIME even called him once “a hermit crab of American letters.” The life of the author somehow continues the story of his character, Holden Caulfield. One can imagine that Holden grew older and got disappointed in the humankind, which is why he isolated himself, so that he could keep some faith in the good and remain a child within.
- “With Love and 20-20 Vision.” TIME, 16 Jul 1951.
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