Book Review: Rereading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

the-catcher-in-the-ryeThe Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time’s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read. (Goodreads)


Just a couple of weeks ago, I finished rereading The Catcher in the Rye. When I first read the book a few years back, it didn’t strike me as much as it did make me ponder the same things that plagued, even tortured, the mind of the restless Holden. His repulsion towards the plastic environment of an institution which he felt himself forced to participate in; the incalculable degree of absence which he strongly experienced despite the presence of people in the midst of a lively New York; the consuming chasm which sucked and tugged the strings of his juvenile heart so much like a vacuum siphoning all that is left of his youth; the angst and rage and madness that characterized and gave form to the wildness of his tender age—all these are the things I remember the most from the Holden Caufield I have met a few years ago. Back then, reading the book was like listening to the monologue of an extended part of myself, a familiar voice which spoke of things I already knew and understood, articulated in a language that is both homely and universal. Holden’s words has successfully captured the clamor and turbulence of youth, while at the same time, portrayed the lonely image of a young man dragged, dispirited and unable to cope with the haunting demands of an alienating community.

Rereading the book allowed me to gain a new perspective on the discourses that set the novel into motion. My second reading of the book focused more dominantly on its context and prose, two important elements which I may have overlooked in my first reading as a result of a hasty attempt to uncover the symbolic gestures of the narrator.

Irrelevant as it may seem, I wanted to understand Holden in a manner that no other character in the novel ever did. I wanted to feel what it felt like to stand in the middle of a bustling city on a winter night, dazed and half-drunk and wanting to speak to someone and realizing halfway through the conversation that the other party is not listening anymore, or that words are futile. I wanted to sketch myself and be a character in the book (if only for one chapter) and tell Holden that he didn’t really need booze or sex or money or any of the phony people he knew in his life, and that it is not true what people say about him.

But this is not me prioritizing finding myself within the narrative, but about allowing the other Holden— the one that was unable to surface in the story because the novel was overpopulated with the tyranny of other people’s opinions and sentiments—to finally speak his mind.

People remember him as an sullen, resentful angst-driven swearing New Yorker.
But to me he is something else.

In a big field of rye, under the luminous sun, surrounded by children.
This is how I will always remember Holden.

Although it is kinda strange to think that stories and novels are not penetrated by, and under the pressure of, the violence of time. It is crazy for me to think that Holden and I are both teenagers when I first read the Catcher, but now I am a full-grown (insert malfunctioning) adult and Holden is still a young boy, the spitting image of a dreamer whose one sole dream is to catch children in the rye and to save for them their innocence.

I guess part of the charm that makes up the iconic image of Holden Caufield is the swelling truth that he will always remain to us readers as a seventeen year-old lad, and that if there is such a thing as madness in him (and I personally think there is not) perhaps it has been kissed away by the rain, as he stood drenched in his own tears, watching his little sister Phoebe making rounds in her wooden horse, laughing at the sight of his own life spinning along with the carousel.

A subtle return to innocence, redeption, home.

I like this laughing Holden as much as I like the ending of the Catcher.

Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Blunt, simple and striking—almost like a warning sign for those who have yet to enter the nasty business of growing up (or perhaps more accurately, of life). Holden allowed himself to open up to people and gave them what they wanted: time, attention, company. But none of these people ever gave him anything back. Not that he was expecting anything in return but far from that, he was willing to give out a part of himself only to face up to the crucial fact that everything and everyone he knew in life could be washed up too easily by the tide of time and events.

Holden’s resistance towards this kind of abandonment was evident in his apparent disgust for everyone—everyone except the ones Holden could recognize and identify himself with: his childhood friend Jane Gallagher, his brother Allie and his little sister Phoebe. He looked at them with a certain longing for something pure and idyllic and with an unconscious intent to recognize who he was before people starting leaving and letting him down.

Contrary to people’s claims regarding the ending of the novel, I personally deem that J.D. Salinger wrote quite a positive denouement for the book (positive, in a sense that Holden was allowed to perpetuate in a state of acceptance). Holden accepted and stayed, ditching behind his plans of hiking out west and starting a life of seclusion in the woods. He emerged from the world of phonies—completely broken and disappointed but more so ready to live it all over again, to suffer from it one more time.

I have scoured the Internet to find what other readers think of the concluding passage from the book.

I shall end this entry with some of the interpretations which I came across and found interesting.

catcher-in-the-rye-comment
image courtesy: http://www.enotes.com
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image courtesy: http://www.enotes.com
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One thought on “Book Review: Rereading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

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