The Catcher in the Rye

I found this book quite haunting and unsettling. Holden Caulfield is certainly not your average narrator and he, like many unreliable and complex protagonists, leads you to question more and more whether his is a narrative which you, firstly, trust and, secondly, like. For the first half of the book many of Holden’s idiosyncrasies interested me; his changeability and how he could suddenly come out with something profound just when you took him for a fool, however from a very distinct point: the moment where he left Sally at the ice rink, I disliked him. From then on I was entirely conflicted between whether I simply detested him or – more forgivingly – pitied him, but I never liked his character. I found his relentless cynicism exhausting purely because it was not entirely unfounded and often his assessment of his 1940s/50s context rang depressingly true in relation to our society today, thus forcing me not just to disregard him as lonely and down, but as an observer of sadly true aspects of the world in which we live.

Holden’s personal language fascinated me for it’s unusual dichotomy between undeveloped, unthinking generalities or recurring phrases and startlingly knowledgeable, astute analysis of character and society. The combination of these two extremes caused the vast majority of his narrative to be an embodiment of the quotation, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – I got the feeling throughout that amid his teenage angst and bewilderment at the world, Holden knew more than his personal language betrayed – perhaps because he thought in a manner more complex than he was capable to express.
What makes The Catcher in the Rye unsettling or uncomfortable to read is that essentially, Holden doesn’t totally like anything. In an ongoing attempt to protect what he believes to be his identity, he isolates himself – holding all others at arms length, deprecating everyone and everything to the point where you almost get the feeling he thinks he is like no one else in this world. Towards the end of the book Mr. Antolini expresses to him that ultimately he is still an undeveloped teenager who is by no means alone and that, through education, “you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour.” An example of Holden’s cynical and judgmental aspect of character would be his consistent observation of ‘phoniness’ in those around him; one which does nothing but depress him despite its clear irony and hypocrisy. Admitting himself on the train to being a compulsive liar, Holden frequently ‘spins the yarn’ or ‘shoots the bull’, jumping erratically between characters in much the same way as those whom he criticises. As a coming of age story, The Catcher in the Rye highlights the naivety of one who perceives faults in those around him but fails to truly notice the very same in himself.

Lastly, one of my favourite parts of this book was the recurring symbol of the ducks in the Central Park Lagoon. As one of the first signs which betrays Holden’s innocence, I thought his continual wondering over what happens to the ducks when the lagoon freezes was very symbolic. Firstly, the idea of and his fear over the ducks having nowhere to go on account of the circumstances mirrors Holden’s own aimless wandering and isolation; his lack of belonging and absence of any one place which feels like home. Secondly, as the reader we known that the ducks have most probably flown somewhere warmer and will return home, to the lagoon, when the winter is over and conditions are right again, thus indicating a sort of universal cyclical pattern by which nothing is ever permanent. This subconscious musing by Holden may be a way in which he attempts to come to terms with the death of his brother Allie and console himself over the loss.

Whilst I cannot say I strictly enjoyed every part of the novel, that was purely because of the nature of the content, however the manner in which Salinger captures the voice of one transcending from youth to adulthood is truly remarkable and I would most definitely advise all to read this book!


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