Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D.Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is a glimpse into few days in the life of a rebellious American teenager, Holden Caulfield. The story is set in the 1950’s, and has been told as a monologue. The character of Holden can be identified with that of any typical teenager; he is at times confused, annoyed and turbulent of adolescent life as any teenager.

Holden goes to school in Pennsylvania. After being expelled from the school for poor performance, Holden lands in New York City and spends time indulging in impulsive spending, erratic behavior, hopping pubs and calling on friends from school.  He spends all the money that his grandmother sent him fiddling away aimlessly, and comes home when his parents are not around to meet his sister Phoebe, the only person with whom he thinks he can have a meaningful conversation.

He plans to travel west to find a job. He conveys his plans to Phoebe, who wants to travel with him but he relents. He finally ends up deciding to come back home and attend another school in fall. It is this period of time of which Holden narrates his experiences. The narration is riddled with sarcasm, and a certain carelessness and arrogance of youth. He might do certain things or act in a certain way for no apparent reason, but just for the 'fun' of it.

The situations in the novel are phrased simplistically, to the extent that one might read it as a lightweight story, but the message that the author tries to put across is not as simple. Holden is a complex character, a teenager driven to erratic behavior. Most of his thoughts, actions, and reactions to everyday issues give a glimpse into the confusing and turbulent times of adolescence.  He describes his habit of impulsive lying as follows:

“I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.”

One of the most pressing questions one faces while gearing up for adulthood is the dilemma of what to do with one’s life. Even though his manner exhibits carelessness of youth, Holden’s mind wanders deploring the possibilities:

“What I'd do, I figured, I'd go down to the Holland Tunnel and bum a ride, and then I'd bum another one, and another one, and another one, and in a few days I'd be somewhere out West where it was very pretty and sunny and where nobody'd know me and I'd get a job. I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn't know anybody.”

He wants to preserve the innocence of his childhood, and desists wading into the maze of adulthood where innocence and mirth are lost somewhere along the way. He tries to explain this to Phoebe in this passage:

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

Holden essentially wants to save those children from the pains of coming to terms with adulthood by being the catcher in the rye.

At a casual first reading, Salinger’s writing appears to be just a story about a confused young man; but digging a little deeper reveals the coming to age story of the boy and dealing with adulthood. The author expects the reader to read between the lines to figure this out. The novel is part of many high school and college curricula, and is among the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 as chosen by Time


ZB said...

thanks for this enriching writeup. I read this in college. Its a masterpiece of Salinger. I would like to reread it, absorbing the meaning more than i did almost 10 years back. :)

Smita said...

Had seen this book several times, had heard a lot about it but never thought of buying nd reading it. But now after reading ur fantastic review I think am tempted enough to go hunting for it...


Rahul Anand said...

@ZB: You're welcome. Thanks for reading :)

@Smita: Yes you can go for it, it's a quick read. TC.

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Thanks, Rahul, for this wonderful review. Seeing the cover, I wondered what the title of book could mean. The explanation is both unusual and interesting. I'll surely read the book sometime.

Science Bloggers Association said...

Nice Blog. Congrats.
-Zakir Ali ‘Rajnish’
{ Secretary-TSALIIM & SBAI }
[Editor- Children’s Poem & Adult’s Poem]

Karthik said...

Thanks a lot, Rahul. It was very helpful. I've been hearing about this novel since a few years, but never been able to get my hands on it. My urge to read it grew stronger after watching Sean Connery's Finding Forrester, which is based on J.D. Salinger's life. And now after reading your wonderful review I'm very eager to read it. Thanks again.

Rahul Anand said...

@Santanu Ji: Thank you. Yes the title does not give an idea of what the book is about; but it sort of fits in place once we know its meaning. Thanks for reading. TC :)

@Karthik: Thank you for the encouraging words. I do not know much about J.D Salinger and the fact that there was a movie about him. Should be interesting, will check it out. Thanks.