Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Monday, 30 March 2015

Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: 1951
Source: Owned
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Cover Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Synopsis: Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the 'phony' aspects of society, and the 'phonies' themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood behind, The Catcher in the Rye explores the world with disarming frankness and a warm, affecting charisma which has made this novel a universally loved classic of twentieth-century literature.

First Line: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

If you've been following my blog for a while now then you'll already know that I love classics. Like really really love them. If posed with the decision to take one book to a desert island with me then it would always be a classic. But Emily, you all wonder, if you love classics so much then why is there hardly any reviews of them on Confessions of a Bookaholic? That is a good question and the answer is simple, reviewing a classic is one of the hardest things a book blogger ever has to do. Give me one to analyse and I can do it easily but ask me to review it and I get a bit stuck. That's not because I don't have an opinion on it, no not at all, it's because I know anyone who reads my review will have their own opinion of it whether they've read it or not and opinions on classics are almost impossible to contend with. For example, if anyone told me that Charles Dickens was a wonderful writer who didn't at all blather on unnecessarily I simply could not believe them because, despite not having read more than a half of one of his books, I already have my mind made up on that subject as most people do concerning other classics.

But, being the dedicated reviewer and classics lover I am I feel I must at least try to review the great classic that is The Catcher in the Rye. This is one of those books that everyone has an opinion on mostly because the majority studied it in high school and therefore understandably hated it. I, however, have never studied this book in my life meaning I was more open to liking it. And like it I did. I feel like this novel is an allegory of sorts for the 'phony' nature of the world which is as true today as it was sixty odd years ago when it was originally published. We live in a world in which people lie, cheat, and change themselves for their own gain. This is normal in our world, we probably don't even notice it that much. This is where we differ from Holden, he cannot cope with the phonies around him and provides the reader with a narration of his phony society. Some of the 'phonies' he points out seem perfectly fine to us as readers but are later unveiled to be just as bad as he originally made them out to be thus showing Holden to be a more reliable judge of people than we are and perhaps causing us to reexamine our own judgement in our real lives outside of the pages.

To discuss the characters in The Catcher in the Rye is something no reviewer should bother with because we never get to know the characters. The novel revolves entirely around Holden documenting the progression of his emotional breakdown, we don't have time to consider other characters in a novel so dedicated to the thoughts of one character. Through Holden we see whether people are 'phonies' or not and that is about as far as we get. The reader's thoughts become so intertwined with Holden's own that we are not left wanting to get to know other characters because, in Holden's world, they don't matter and we are in Holden's world. We become emotionally invested in his stresses and worries throughout, his questions cause us to question also.

"By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?"

Anyone who has even heard of this novel knows about the existence of this question. It plagues Holden throughout the novel, where do the ducks go? Surely the answer is simple, they migrate or stay put and huddle together like many animals do. So why is Holden obsessed with this question? That answer is just as simple, he identifies with those ducks, he has been kicked out of numerous schools and has no proper family dynamic to speak of. Like the ducks, Holden is left cold. He wants to know how they get through it because he can't. He doesn't know that he can escape, like the ducks, and he doesn't have the social support needed to "huddle" for warmth so to speak. Holden is like a lone duck left out on the ice with no escape in sight and he realises that.

I have read so many reviews in which people describe hating this book due to the "annoying" narrator but I pose a question to those people, do you remember being a teenager? Teenagers are curious, awkward and are constantly developing. They are emotional, hormonal and confused. Holden represents teenagers, he is an exaggerated view of adolescence but that is what he is. I personally do not find Holden annoying, I find him intriguing. When reading I could not help but picture him as an alien who has landed on Earth and is baffled by our customs, and rightly so if you really think about it. Holden's sensitive mental state means that the little things that we overlook such as 'phonies' are massive deals to him.

“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.”

Irony is often cited as a massive feature of The Catcher in the Rye but I must disagree. Holden is indeed a terrific liar and many state that to make him a phony however I personally believe that is just his way of coping with his phony world. The narrative voice we see in the novel is honest, emotional and somewhat controversial. That is not a personality that would fit into a world like he believes he lives in therefore Holden conforms in his own way. I don't believe he means to but he does. We readers know Holden to be intelligent, sensitive and kind to those he loves but the other characters see him as a sarcastic liar. Where most characters conceal their real worse selves in order to be liked, it is almost as if Holden does the opposite to push people away. He is clearly a confused young boy who very much needs to find out who he is and how he fits into this world.

"I think that one of these days," he said, "you're going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you've got to start going there. But immediately. You can't afford to lose a minute. Not you."

Holden has a special quality in him to see humankind's evils, his inability to cope with what he sees gives the reader an idea of how awful the world really is even if we can't see it ourselves. I know that sounds really depressing but it really isn't because once we know of our problems then we can stop making those same mistakes. Holden is depicted by Salinger and the savior of mankind there to save the younger generations from making the same mistakes we have. I personally think that is how Salinger intended the novel to be read, as a warning to stop perpetuating the phoniness of the world and fill it with raw honesty as Holden symbolises. He is a honest youth who has been corrupted to the ways of phoniness and wants to stop that from happening to others.

“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 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.”

Holden Caulfield is the Catcher in the Rye.

I know there are probably many people who disagree with my interpretation so let me know in the comments!

7 People dared to comment.:

aeriko001 said...

This book is a classic, but I must admit that I haven't read. I've been meaning to, but I haven't found the right chance yet. I didn't study it at school neither, and I'm glad because what you usually study, well you hate it! Great review!

Killian B said...

Why haven't I read this book? I've set myself a goal to read some more classics this year (so far I've only read The Great Gatsby, which I really enjoyed) but even though there's a copy of this hanging around at my house I still haven't read it. Thankfully I haven't studied it in school either, so when I do eventually get around to it I won't have had it ruined for me.

Out of all the classics in the world, this one seems to be among the most divisive. I think that that's, as you mentioned, partly because many people studied it in school, and thus hated it. Also I seems that lots of people who have no experience with literary fiction go into it and don't like it because it's boring. While that does make me seem incredibly pretentious (which is more or less impossible seeing as I like fantasy and science fiction) I think it's true for a lot of classics.

Lastly, I like what you said about the main character being annoying. I think it's a real issue in YA at the moment that the main character is perfect in every way. They are super relatable, yet they are also extreme badasses and have a perfect moral compass and all their decisions are perfect and they never complain. I'm 16, and to be completely honest I'd be a shite protagonist. As you said, I'm a fairly normal teenager.

Great review and I hope you managed to trawl through my comment! I'll definitely have to read this now, your review has got me excited for it!

Emily said...

Ah, I hope you're as intrigued by it as I was.

Emily said...

Oh I love it when people say they want to read more classics! They always regret telling me though because it causes me to burst out with hundreds of recommendations. I won't bore you with them now but feel free to email me if you are in need of them! I'd happily oblige.

I promise you there are so many classics in the world that are not boring. Science Fiction was a common genre back then even, and fantasy, just not as we know those genres today. When you think about it, the genres we have now had to stem from somewhere and you can trace most back to their classical predecessors easily.

And a get what you mean about YA protagonists being totally idealised nowadays, but again if you want to escape that then classics are the way forwards. I think back then flaws were seen as human features and therefore left in whereas nowadays we prefer perfection, even if that perfection comes in the form of an inhuman being.

Thank you for leaving me such an insightful comment!

Michael Cargill said...

I haven't read this one yet... though I haven't actually read very many classics, so that's not much of a surprise!

I know what you mean about Dickens. I read David Copperfield last year and although I quite enjoyed it overall, I had to do it in 10% chunks as it made my head hurt after a while.

Emily said...

Ah you're better than me if you managed to finish one of his!

Sharon Mills said...

I'm another that wonders why I haven't read it yet. Maybe it's about time as I found an immaculate copy in a charity shop for £1 today.

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