The Catcher in the Rye: A Review

I approached The Catcher in the Rye with the usual suspicion accorded to books that make it to every compilation of the ‘bucket list’ of books to read. For me, it may not have been the path-breaking, life-changing book that it has been made out to be- but I know it is one book I’d like to revisit very soon. JD Salinger has stuck to simplicity and honesty, which makes Holden Caulfield, with all his flaws and confusion, a very endearing, memorable character.

Caulfield is the regular dysfunctional teenager with a life that he cannot comprehend, people that he cannot make sense of but whose presence he still needs. On his expulsion from school, he doesn’t want to go back home before his parents hear of his disgrace officially- but he cannot bear to stay on either. He goes to New York, trying to find places where he won’t be recognised, reclaiming old acquaintances, being lured by a prostitute with whom he ends up only trying to have a conversation. He tries to get drunk but is turned away very often for being under-age; he goes to spend the night with a teacher from one of his previous schools, is roused to suspicion by his actions, and goes away from his house. The only thing that Caulfield can really find solace in is a talk with his younger sister Phoebe- he sees her as a wise, discriminating person, someone who can help him make sense of his conflicting emotions. His affection and respect for her run through the book, and it is only through her intervention that he is able to come to a decision towards the end.

The title derives from a Robert Burns poem- Caulfied wants to be the catcher in the rye, to save children from falling off a cliff as they run through the fields. The book courted controversy for what was then extremely bold language and a convention-defying idea- criticism on the merits of the book has always been divided. But then, the story is not about great vocabulary or sparkling language. It is told very simply by a seventeen-year-old in a conversational style that makes it very easy to relate to. You empathise with Caulfield’s pent-up frustrations and his desperate search for a release. It is about the phase that almost everybody goes through- denial, exploration, an urge to discover oneself, the misery of not knowing what one really wants.

The book is liberally sprinkled with colloquial language- expletives, perhaps- but it hits home because that is the way the story is meant to be told. You don’t expect a teenager on the brink of adulthood to mind his language with prudish good sense when he is in a casual conversation with you. You want to know Caulfield and be a part of his journey as he attempts to discover himself. Salinger keeps a firm hold on the plot and never lets it digress. This is one book I really regretted coming to the end of, but I know I wouldn’t have it end any other way.

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Posted on January 11, 2010, in Books. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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