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Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is a novel that recounts the life of a 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after his expulsion from Pencey Prep school. The author exploits the challenges that young adults face at different stages and illustrates the dramatic struggle of teenagers against growing up and transitioning into adulthood. Salinger tackles a wide range of themes, including childhood, phoniness, alienation, angst, sex, identity.
There is the first time in almost everything, but none is as challenging as growing up. No one has ever grown up before; hence no one has the experience to know how it is. You go through significant life changes, and many things, from your love life to career choices, confuse you until you reach a point of despair. Without a strong support system, you can give up long before you are even halfway through the journey. Given this is something we have all witnessed, Jerome David Salinger has more than enough to talk about in his book, The Catcher in the Rye.
The book remains just as relevant today as it was when it was written. It introduces you to interesting characters experiencing everyday challenges, and you learn from them in so doing. You can barely imagine it is 67 years old, maybe because the author tackles all inclusive-generational issues. Love it or hate it, The Catcher in the Rye has withstood the test of time, and as things currently stand, it is sure to stick around fora long time still.
The focus of the book
The book starts with the narrative of a sixteen-year-old American teenager, Holden Caulfield, from New York, recalling his last Christmas experience. He recounts his encounters at Pencey Preparatory Academy, a school that only the rich attend. Even before he lets the reader know, he clarifies he would steer clear of anything personal about his parents as they are somewhat touchy, especially his father, and would not like to say anything that will upset them. Is this a common narrative among children? Of course, yes. Most children often want to say something about their parents, but since they know how strict they can get, they choose not to. This kind of strictness might have interfered with Holden’s openness to his parents. For instance, he has already been expulsed and would like to return home the same day to be present when his parents receive his expulsion notice.
But what kind of relationship should parents establish with their children? I think it should be one in which children are free to talk about their parents to their friends without fear of rebuke. If there are things parents do not want their children to talk about, the best thing is not to let them encounter such things. As the bigger ones in this family relationship, it is obvious you are better placed to control what children discover or not. But then teens are often sneaky and may outsmart you, knowing things you would never have thought they had the slightest idea.
The teen narrates to his brother the time he left prep school, making a mockery of the school’s marketing gimmicks. For instance, its ads in magazines showcase a man on a horse with the inscription, “Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.” He argues he has never seen a horse near the school compound and that molding here is not any different from that in other high schools.
The book’s tone and cultural perspective from the beginning motivate you to continue reading all the way through. By adding the human dimension and real-life situations, the author successfully captures the readers’ attention, making the book a page-turner.
The pain of growing up
It is no secret that J.D. Salinger wanted to give a deeper look into what it feels like growing up. Throughout this novel, the young Caulfield goes through different growth stages until he becomes a young adult. He is naturally built to resist the process of maturity, something that he should be enjoying rather than having a hard time with. This is well-demonstrated by his thoughts about the Museum of Natural History. Holden is frightened by change and the complexities involved. He is particularly afraid of the guilt of the sins he criticizes in others even when he has no clue what is going on around him. Despite his worries, he does not acknowledge and only expresses them occasionally. For instance, when he refers to sex and says it is something he does not understand. Maybe God can give him a better understanding?
The reader cannot blame him for such confusion. After all, is it not the same struggles all teenagers go through? We meet and fall in love and get so emotionally attached to our partners. Part of that attraction also includes sexual desires, the same that Holden has for Jane Gallagher. But society categorically maintains that sex before marriage is a sin. And so, as much as one would want to enjoy the pleasures of sex, guilt keeps holding one back. These are precisely the things the author addresses in the book. By shedding some light on them, the reader gets to know that he or she is not alone facing these challenges.
No matter how challenging growing up can be, one has to take the bull by the horns. Instead of admitting that he is scared of adulthood, Holden creates his fantasy world where he alludes to adulthood as full of hypocrisy and superficiality, whereas childhood is dominated by honesty, curiosity, and innocence. Nothing expresses his perception of the two worlds much better than how he fantasizes about the “catcher in the rye.” His opposing expressions about childhood and adulthood give him some protection from being critiqued by the reader. But then, the shallowness of his thoughts is expressed during his encounters with Sister Phoebe and Mr. Antolini.
An interesting mystery about the book is Mark David Chapman, who is found guilty of murdering the English musician, John Lennon. When he is arrested, he is still at the scene reading a book. He planned to cite it as his manifesto. Days leading up to this murder, Chapman had developed a couple of interests like interest in the music of Todd Rundgren and artwork. The Catcher in the Rye seems to have had a more significant impact on his personality as he wished his real-life were similar to the protagonist’s Holden Caulfield.
The gap between adulthood and childhood
The gap between adulthood and childhood is seen right from the beginning of Holden’s narrative. Having forfeited a fencing match in New York City and forgotten his equipment at the subway, he visits his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, a well-intentioned older man. He greets him and offers some advice. Holden is, however, embarrassed when his history work is criticized.
Further exploring the gap, Holden happens to be in a taxicab and asks the driver whether or not ducks frequent Central Park lagoon, but the man refuses to answer. He brings up this topic several times. The driver may have chosen not to answer because he feels the young man is a nuisance. Teenagers can often be quite a nuisance, especially when they are eager to learn something you are not ready to answer. On the other hand, they may choose to keep things to themselves. When he arrives at the Edmont Hotel, Holden checks himself in and spends the night dancing with three tourist women. Could this indicate that since some teenagers may not merge well with some adults, it is not the case all the time?
Tensions can also exist between people of the same age group. Appreciating whatever is done, nonetheless, is the key for you. As we all know, young people have the biggest challenge with this. When Stradlater returns to the dorm, he finds that Holden had written him a deeply personal composition about Holden’s late brother, Allie’s baseball glove, but he fails to appreciate it.
Salinger has done an impressive job in the novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Besides, he has also written a short story, The Young Folks, which conveniently merges with the author’s popular novel patterns. In general, Salinger has done a great job expressing the struggles of growing up. His imagination and effort to stay in touch with reality has made the book to outlive generations. It is worth reading!