Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3 down, 97 to go)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. ~ Opening line

This is the second time I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye and the only work I’ve read by J.D. Salinger. The book is a post-modernist novel and the first-person narrative of Holden Caulfield recalling a few days of his life, late December, 1949.

My Rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

This book killed me if you want to know the truth; it really did. It reminded me of a book I read a long time ago, I can’t remember the name, but it was the sort of book that makes you feel like crying half the time, and laughing half the time, and then just sort of puking the rest of the time. I’m always reading these books that make me want to cry and laugh and puke. It’s depressing if you want to know the truth. It really is.

For the benefit of anyone who has not read The Catcher in the Rye, the previous paragraph was my attempt to mimic Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist. I read this the first time a few years ago and didn’t like it very much. I enjoyed it more the second time, but it still isn’t among my favorites. Holden is spoiled, whiny and self-absorbed. He is traveling home for the holidays, but also because he has flunked out of a prestigious boarding school – not the first time this has happened. His parents don’t know yet, and he makes several detours seemingly to avoid the confrontation.

Some readers have presumed Holden is telling his story to a psychiatrist, but that is not my understanding. He has been admitted to a medical facility, because he wandered around New York smoking and drinking, without a coat, little food, and little sleep.

He’s a pretty annoying poor little rich kid. He has a few good qualities though and the most endearing is his adoration of his little sister, ole Phoebe.

Quotations, that either made me cry or laugh or puke (all by Holden).

I told him I liked Ring Lardner and The Great Gatsby and all. I did too. I was crazy about The Great Gatsby. Old Gatsby, Old sport. That killed me.

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.

Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a *&*??@!! toilet seat.

Ernie’s a big fat colored guy that plays the piano. He’s a terrific snob and he won’t hardly even talk to you unless you’re a big shot or a celebrity or something, but he can really play the piano. He’s so good he’s almost corny, in fact. I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it. 

It isn’t important, I know, but I hate it when somebody has cheap suitcases. It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, just looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them.

One quotation not by Holden: a character gives Holden advice by way of a quotation by Wilhelm Stekel (real person, real quotation): 
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

That one knocks me out; it really does.

Film Rendition: There is apparently a 2008 video entitled The Catcher in the Rye, but as I understand it, it is 75 minutes of blue screen, nothing else. Supposedly a tribute to Holden's anti-establishment ideology.



  1. Hi Joseph,

    I must take issue with your dismissal of what I consider to be an insightful novel. Your dismissal of Holden as being "spoiled, whiny and self-absorbed" is not doing justice to an adolescent character searching for his sense of self-identity.

    Holden is in a predicament. He is not independent and is searching for what independence and adulthood might mean. He looks around him for role models, yet finds none. To him, the adult world is one of 'phoneyness', a pretence, an act, in which people perform as they think they should be, not as they truly are. They are not genuine, not real or essential and this is what troubles him. He rejects this way of being in the world, yet longs for a true sense of identity - a profound feeling of what it is to be human. This is why he visualises himself as 'a catcher in the rye' -someone whose role really matters, someone who counts for something, by saving young lives. This is the role that he aspires towards. He sees it as a genuine, hearfelt and positive thing to do. Yet the world of adulthood, seemingly, gives it little consideration. In his view, we must become arch and superficial in order to make our way in the world. And he wans to reject this but feels lost in how to accomplish such a task. So he withdraws from life, to the extent that, to him, everything is fake. This is not self-absorption; it as a profund wrestling with what it is to be truly human. That is why, as a novel, this book succeeds. It presents us with a dilemma. Do we succumb to what is 'normal' and 'accepable' or do we try and find a way of living that is in accord with our nature? Holden chooses to follow his nature. Not because he wishes to be different, but because he wants to live a life that really matters, that counts for something, in his eyes. And conformity to the norm does not do it for him on a number of levels. If he is to be condemned, it is only by virtue that he wishes not to play the game, to conform, to participate in what he considers to be a corruption of truly human values. Clearly Salinger has not succeeded in trying to communicate this message through his protagonist. But he tried, goddamit, at least he did that.

    Best wishes in your quest,


  2. Hello Clive Ole Bean,

    Great to hear from you, and thank you for your opposing view. I won't say you've quite convinced me what a prince young Holden is, but I may dislike him a bit less for your insight. Now can you help me out with Ulysses?

  3. I see you found my review. I really enjoyed the experience of Catcher in the Rye, and probably b/c it was so lighthearted. Holder was slightly annoying, and he reminded me of one of those privileged brats that lived in NYC, but he really wasn't privileged. And b/c of his naiveté, I don't blame him so much that he acted the way that he did. He still had some good traits. Overall, I may want to reread it, but not any time soon.


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