This book has no plot, no gripping action and when you put it down, you don’t feel any sense of achievement. It’s rather tiring, and exhausting to the point you open Netflix and start watching some meaningless show.
The Catcher in the Rye is a long monologue about Holden Caulfield and how everything in his world is pitted against him. As monologues go, we get to see only Holden’s justifications, and his explanations about his actions leave the reader dissatisfied.
The book begins with Holden Caulfield, our phony protagonist, and frustrated teenager, getting expelled from school because he cared little for school to the point of not attending an exam. The school management and the Principal, already tired of his behavior, ask him to leave. Holden, the rich entitled teenager he is, decides to spend the next two days in New York before going home. In these two days, he drinks a dozen jugs of alcohol, hires a prostitute, goes on a date with his ex, just to tell her rude things, gets into brawls and eventually becomes depressed and decides to leave his family to make his ‘own way in the world of adults’.
Holden treats everyone as Phonies and despises himself for becoming one. The book deals with the themes of transitioning into adulthood, the loss of innocence, the universal frustration that is crippling teenagers, and the idea of finding your place in the world. Holden clearly has no idea where he fits and lacked the guidance to move forward. He wants to hold on to his childishness, but he is also aware that the world doesn’t work like that. He wants to move forward, but he never gets over the death of his little brother, and living in a dysfunctional family makes things only worse.
He thinks hiring a prostitute (and he asks her to talk to him and do nothing else) and drinking gallons of alcohol would make him an adult. He believes doing adult things like having sex and drinking, would make him an adult. He never realizes that he’s trapped in his childhood.
Holden is a rich kid with a skewed view of the world, and a whiny brat. Sure. I believe we all were entitled and whiny in our teens. But, that’s the point of this book. It’s about Holden’s battle with the world and finding a place in a world that doesn’t care about his brother’s death, his abuse, his parents’ relationship, and a hundred other things Holden clings on to and worries about. That’s the underlying message: You have to move on, irrespective of what happens, and how fucked up your own world is because the bigger world will not let you remain the child/adolescent you wish to be. There’s this beautiful piece of writing that describes the loss of innocence and sums up Holden’s thoughts.
When Holden’s sister Phoebe asks him, what is it you want to be when you grow up, he says:
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.
This is Holden saying that he wants to protect the little children from the snares of adulthood. Author Salinger uses this paragraph to describe the loss of innocence and how Holden hopes no one should be allowed to go through the struggles he suffered. But Salinger makes it clear that everyone should take a fall from the cliff, to discover who we are and what we can do.
Holden’s little sister Phoebe was written beautifully. She has empathy and she lends her money to her brother and listens to everything he has to say (when he’s having a breakdown). For her age, Phoebe displays
Then what she did--it damn near killed me--she reached in my coat pocket and took out my red hunting hat and put it on my head.
Books involving existential questions, the idea that life is meaningless and the vanity of having a purpose are plenty, but I thought, one exclusively written from the point of view of a teenager like this, would go soft on exploring these themes. The fact that this book, written in the 1950s, is still considered as the king of coming age fiction confirms that The Catcher in the Rye aged gracefully.
You’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them--if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
I wish Holden had listened to this advice from his teacher and acted upon it.
One thing that racks my brain is, I, a 24-year-old, relate to Holden ninety percent of the time, am I still a teenager at the heart? Am I still overwhelmed with the idea of stepping into adult’s clothes and the struggles that come with it? Am I still looking at my past for some relief?