The Catcher in the Rye
“You’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior.”
In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield is kicked out of yet another prestigious prep school and sinks into depression and disillusionment. He returns to New York, but stays away from home for a weekend to enjoy adult life without rules or restrictions (or his parents’ disapproval), and tries to understand himself and what it means to be authentic.
Salinger has Holden narrate his own story, which is a great choice. His voice is personable, funny, and direct. I especially enjoyed how opinionated Holden is. He goes off on tangents just to complain about how little other people make sense. Take, for instance, this quote: “When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”
I did have a little difficulty understanding the deeper meaning of some parts of the book. (I was reading this on my own–none of my English classes have had this in their curriculum–so I did not have any guidance.) For example, at first, I was a little confused by Holden’s obsession with where ducks go when ponds freeze over, but I appreciated the significance more once I understood it. First of all, Holden craves independence from societal convention, which explains why he thinks about ducks so much, since birds are associated with freedom and lead very simple lives. Their escape from winter coincides with Holden’s desire to escape from his life–from school, from his parents, and from responsibilities. His query also separates him from the adults in his life, who think Holden is stupid for caring about where the ducks go; what matters to him is not important to anybody else.
This book is amazing, so although it is written about and mostly read by teenage readers, I would encourage older people to read it as well. I would not, however recommend it to anyone younger than teenagers because of its more adult material and foul language. I also would suggest reading this with at least one other person; after I finished reading, I was dying for someone to talk to about it.