Sunday, December 3

The Catcher in the Rye

Written by J. D. Salynger, It is one of my all-time favourite novels, although it has been involved in controversy since its publication in 1951 maybe by the use of offensive language, premarital sex, alcohol abuse and prostitution.
The murderer of musiciam John lennon, Mark David Chapman, was carrying the book when he was arrested inmediately after the murder. John Hinckley, Jr. who attented to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 was also obseesed with the book, and Kurt Cobain, leader of Nirvana band was also carrying a copy of the book few weeks before his death.
Holden, the novel protagonist, has a disturbing influence on youths considered to be "social outcasts". People like Chapman and Hinckley come to relate themselves to Holden, the person who nobody understands and that can't understand anybody else.
The meaning of the novel's title is based on a misreading of a line in the song "Comin' Thro' The Rye" by Robert Burns which Holden heard a young boy singing. He imagines a field of rye perched high on a cliff full of children playing. He says he would like to protect them from falling off the edge of the cliff by "catching" them if they were in danger. Holden tells his sister Phoebe he has always wanted to be a Catcher in the Rye (symbolically a rescuer of children).
Holden Caulfield, protagonist and narrator of the story has become an icon for teenage alienation and fear.
Written in the first person and in flashback while he was in a mental hospital, though the readers do not know this until the end of the novel, The Catcher in the Rye relates Holden's experiences in New York in the days following his expulsion for academic failure from the Pency Preparatory school. It is not the first school that has expelled him.
The novel covers a few important days in the life of a tall, highly-critical and depressed sixteen year old who decides one night to run away from Pencey Preparatory boarding school, just before Christmas vacation, he plans to spend some time on his own in New York City, where he lives.
Though Holden is friendly with many people al school, and though he has several friends in the city, he is constantly lonesone and in need of someone who will sympathise with his feelings of alienation. The person Holden feels closest to is his ten years old sister Phoebe. He has an older brother, D.B. who is a screenplay writer in Hollywood, and a younger brother, Allie who died years ago of leukemia.
After getting kicked out of Pency, Holden must go home and tell his parents. Instead of deciding to face them with his failure, he wanders around the streets of New York City and comes into contact with some interesting characters, but he can't make meaningful contact with any of them. Holden thinks the only solution to his problem is to run away and establish a new identity as a deaf-mute who will not need to communicate with anyone. On the verge of a nervious collapse, Holden changes his mind and decides to go back home. He enters a hospital not far from Hollywood, and he is telling us his story while in his institution. At the end of the novel, Holden is not sure if he will be able to handle things better when he leaves the hospital.

Holden narrates in a cynical and jaded voice with a sarcastic style and using the stream of consciousness throughout the novel.
The Catcher in the Rye deals mainly with different themes:

  • Alienation.

Throughout the novel, Holden seems to be excluded from and victimized by the world around him, he continually tries to find his way in a world in which he feels he does not belong.He thinks that no one understands him and that everyone is a "phony". He believes that no one is honest and everybody wants to be something else. He feels that the only person who understands him is Phoebe. He does not have relationship with girls, or anyone because he feels that he is the only genuine person in the world.

He is an atypical teenager. He is alienated more than most adolescents. He is also in the middle of an identity crisis. All teenagers go through these phases, so everyone can relate to Holden to some extend. He is socially inept, although he has many friends and acquantances, he cannot form lasting, meaningful friendship. Most teenagers, although they have insecurities, are able to function in relationships.

  • Phoniness

This is probably the most famous phrase from The Catcher in the Rye , it is a word which describes the superficiality, hypocrisy, pretension and shallowness that Holden encounters in the world around him. He explains that adults are inevitably phonies, and, what is worse, they can't see their own phoniness. His brother D.B. is a screenwriter in Hollywood. Holden regards him as a "phony" and has little contact with him. He regards D.B. as a figurative prostitute, who writes only to make money, and not for intellectual redemption.

He finds the hypocrisy and uglyness of the world around him almost unbearable and through his cynicism he tries to protect himself from the pain and dissappointment of the adult world, but there is evidence that Holden exhibits much of the same "phoniness", meanness and superficiality he denounces in others.

  • Loss

Holden has to deal with loss, he loses his brother, Allie, to leukemia, and he feels a tremendous loss. Allie wrote poems on an old baseball glove, and Holden cherished this and speaks about it in great detail. Once, his roommate, Stradlater asked him to write a story for him, he found inspiration in his brother Allie's baseball glove, but when Stradlater returns and finds what Holden has written, he is annoyed. Holden tears up the essay.

  • Loss of innocence

Holden wishes to eliminate corruption from the world and protect children like his sister from becoming like the many adult "phonies" he hated. But he finds it impossible to maintain innocence. After seeing some vulgar grafitti on the walls in his sister Phoebe's elementary school and the museum, bastions of learning and culture, he realizes that he will not be able to erase it all and protect children from the world indefinitely.

  • Betrayal

Holden constantly feels betrayed, and this is a possible cause of his problems. Early in the novel, Mr. Spencer betrays him, he was one of the few teachers at Pency that Holden liked. Stradlater betrays him by dating his best friend, Jane, whom Holden also had a crush on. When he returns home to see Phoebe, she is dissappointed in him that he failed out of Pency. He thinks that she should accept him unconditionally, so he feels betrayed.

  • Maturity

Holden is very inmature, but he believes he is mature. He does not mature throuh the novel. He actually regresses back to a child-like state of mind. He is constantly dwelling on the death of his younger brother and avoids his parents. He thinks the only person he can talk to is his ten year old sister. Holden holds Allie and Phoebe in such high esteem because they are innocent. Holden's goal is to protect innocence in the world.

  • The painfulness of growing up (adolescence)

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about a young character's growth into maturity, he is an adolescent in search of an identity.

When he hears the "Catcher in the Rye" song being sung by a little boy, he decides that he wants to be the person that keeps children from falling off a cliff. That cliff symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood, and he wants to keep them as innocent children, not phony adults.

Other possible themes are:

  • Mental deterioration. Holden ends up in a psychiatric hospital
  • Failure. Holden is constantly beein kicked of schools.
  • Sexual experiences/frustration. Holden is a typical hormonal tennage male, yet he does not have sex with the prostitue when she offers.

Haven't you read this novel yet? What are you waiting for? I strongly recommend it to everyone. It is a real masterpiece.

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