27 Jun 2012

The Catcher in the Rye: a Review

Nothing happens.

In J D Salinger’s novel, fiction is deliberately more unremarkable than truth. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, says, does and thinks very little throughout the course of the book. Holden is an example of the boring, insignificant, yet self-important character that represents many.

And yet, it would be a mistake to think that the book as a whole is boring. On the surface, the book is simply about a young man’s expulsion from a school and the resulting happenings. However, The Catcher in the Rye is in fact a detailed depiction of an individual’s psychological understanding of himself and his position in society.

Holden, the protagonist whose perspective the novel is told through, is a teenager growing up in America in the 1950s. At the beginning of the novel, he is expelled from school for poor achievement (not for the first time). Fearing the inevitable wrath of his parents, we then follow Holden as he attempts to put it off, by leaving school (which he boards at) early to take a break in New York City for a few days before going back home.

Nothing special? Probably not. But its secret weapon is in the fact that it’s a monologue. It allows us access to the first-person thoughts of Holden as he takes part in these activities through the few days. Throughout these days, he describes a developing nervous breakdown, with inexplicable depression, impulsive spending and generally odd behaviour characteristic of his actions.

J D Salinger’s setting for the book is significant. In the rat-race of NYC, the majority of people ignore Holden and his odd behaviour. That is the key attraction, for me, to the novel. It deals with society and the individual: it explores how society’s attitude sways towards ignorance and, perhaps, shunning, when faced with certain aspects of the human condition. Isolation is seeping through the pages, leading to the introspective nature of Holden and his narrative tone. Salinger hints at society’s deliberate ignorance of the emptiness that may characterise human existence. This is, of course, set in stark contrast to the interest we give to his thoughts, as we are given every other issue floating around in the young character’s head. I’ve listed a few of these internal thoughts of Holden that we are treated to throughout the book:

All morons hate it when you call them a moron. – Chapter 6

In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. – Chapter 9

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. – Chapter 26
Personally, the book isn’t a personal favourite. I prefer something significant to happen in a novel, twinned with the psychological consequences of such substantial events. Still, J D Salinger’s novel is a worthy read: it powerfully portrays an intricately decent but introverted young man’s experiences when searching for his identity and his place in an apparently uncaring world. Perhaps the greatest ratification is that The Catcher in the Rye has dated very little. The same problems in it are actually exacerbated in many Western societies today, making this novel stand the test of time. Despite the internal psychological battles in one’s head, life continues on regardless, as it always had, and always will.


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