Over the decades since its publication in July of 1951, The Catcher in the Rye has transitioned from being a novel aimed primarily at adults to one enjoyed by a spectrum of readers. Today, the novel is taught in high school classrooms around the world, with students relating on a variety of levels to Holden’s mental conflict, angst, and difficulty adjusting to adulthood.
The Adult World, Unreliable Narration and Growing Up
Having read this novel before, I went into The Catcher in the Rye remembering how moving I found Holden’s emotional journey. The novel opens with Holden learning he’s been expelled from yet another school, this doesn’t disappoint him as much as it reminds him of his irritation at the whole requirement. Holden spends most of his waking hours pushing back, mentally arguing with and resisting participation in, the adult world.
The Catcher in the Rye is told from Holden’s perspective. He is the perfect embodiment of what is known as an unreliable narrator. His emotions are strong, his opinions are prominent and any depiction of another character, or even himself, is tinted by those emotional opinions. I find one of the most wonderful aspects of the novel to be the way in which Salinger pulls the reader into Holden’s world. As I read, I relearned how to see through his eyes and come to an understanding of his personal, tortured vision of the transitory period between childhood and adulthood.
Relationships in The Catcher in the Rye
After being expelled, and before leaving the school, Holden engages in a fight with his roommate, Ward. Much bigger than Holden, Ward beats him handily. Through this scene I found myself introduced to the passion Holden feels only in very specific aspects of his life. In this case, for a young woman named Jane he met in Maine when he much younger. He sought to defend her honour against Ward, someone he knew only cared about having sex with her.
This passion reappears in select portions of Holden’s life later on in the novel. Despite not caring about school, the adults in his life, relationships with his peers, or his future, he does feel deeply for his sister and his deceased younger brother, Allie. Holden’s relationship to his younger brother, who died years prior to the start of the novel, tints the entire narrative.
Through Holden’s relationship with his sister, which is experienced in realtime later on in the novel, the reader is exposed to one of the only healthy interactions in the novel. Despite being younger than he is, Holden’s sister, Phoebe, is wise, often sharing advice with her older brother in an attempt to help him sort out his life. It is due to her influence that he doesn’t attempt to runaway in the concluding scenes of The Catcher in the Rye. In fact, she instigates what is arguable the most emotional moment of the novel. The concluding scene in which Holden pays for her to ride a carousel and cries as he observes her happiness and peace in that moment.
Death in The Catcher in the Rye
Death, one of the major themes of The Catcher in the Rye, asserts itself as Holden contends with his role in the world and whether or not he’s going to be able to find a purpose. There are moments in which he seems to contemplate suicide as a reasonable option and even praises a young man who did commit suicide in order to escape bullies. These sections of the novel spoke to me of an underling desperation Holden feels, a claustrophobia brought on by a perceived lack of options.
Concluding Scenes of The Catcher in the Rye
I found myself in the latter sections of the novel contemplating the complexities of Holden’s opinion of adults, adulthood and children and childhood. He has an obvious preference for youth and whether articulated or not, a constant fear of the future. Holden’s lack of interest in being an adult stems in part from his cynical view of the way adults interact with one another and with children. He sees these interactions as fake, put on, and often exaggerated. One of the best examples comes form his consideration of death and funeral practices.
Throughout The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger takes the reader on a Kerouac-style journey through New York City and at the same time, the deepest parts of Holden’s mind. The conclusion of the novel is deeply moving, taking the reader out of the interior narrative and back to Holden in the present, retelling the story of this period from within a mental institution. This is a shocking reminder of the consequences of the pressures of contemporary society and how they weigh heavily on the young more than anyone else.
The Catcher in the Rye Book Review: Salinger's Groundbreaking Novel
Lasting Effect on Reader
The Catcher in the Rye Review
The Catcher in the Rye is one of those novels that every high school-aged student has to read. Some come away baffled by Holden’s behavior while others find themselves drawn into his rebellion and dissatisfaction with the world. As Salinger’s creation, Holden represents everyone’s irritation with the various facades that the world accepts as genuine. Phoniness, in Holden’s world, is entirely unacceptable. In this novel, a reader is thrust into an angst-filled, desperate, and often destructive account of a young man’s life. By the end, when the frame novel concludes, readers are left to wonder where Holden is going next and if its possible for him, and for themselves, to find happiness.
- Brutally realistic depiction of the “adult world”.
- Salinger’s original, groundbreaking writing style is on full display.
- Moving, emotional images that stick with the reader long after the book is over.
- Minimal action, mostly internal dialogue and narration.
- Readers are exposed to destructive thoughts and behaviors.
- No real conclusion, readers are left wondering what happens to Holden Caulfield.