Catcher In The Rye: You Kill Me, Holden Caulfield!
Written: Apr 25, 2004 (Updated Apr 25, 2004)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:compelling, witty, coming-of-age story told by sensitive hero, Holden Caulfield
Cons:sad under the humor
The Bottom Line: This book won't go out of style...
J.D. Salingers 1945 book, Catcher in the Rye, told to us by the main character Holden Caulfield, begins the night before he leaves Pencey Prep after being kicked out for not applying himself to any subject except composition. Its at least the second school that has kicked him out and he hopes to delay facing his parents wrath by bumming around New York City for a few days until his family expects him for Christmas vacation. Hes a tall, fairly handsome, very cynical, smoking teenager who is still a virgin and has no direction in life. His apathy probably has to do with his post-WW II world as much as the death of his much-beloved, younger brother, Allie.
Holdens introduction sets the pace for the next 276 pages with 26 untitled chapters:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing youll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied before they had me, and all that David Copperfield crap, but I dont feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
He says if you want to know the truth a lot, yet we know right away that hes relating his thoughts as soon as he thinks them in a stream-of-consciousness manner. His thoughts arent prettied up with the constant bad language or habitual phrases like somebody or something kills me edited out. Hes not trying to impress us or educate us in any way. It seems to be only a way for him to kill time, hehe, as he looks back a year later on these transitional days.
Soon you will realize that Catcher in the Rye is told with many flashbacks that relate in some way to his present situation, with events leading up to his termination at Pencey and memories of his interactions with his roommate, neighbor, his kid sister, a teacher and girls. He horses around and tries to engage the first two in conversation when they ignore him or try to sleep. It isnt until he learns who Stradlater is dating that he shows some real concern.
Unable to stop worrying about this girl he knows well, Jane, Holden starts an ill-conceived, physical fight with Stradlater when he returns. All bloodied, Holden doesnt even clean up or stuff his nose, but forces an invitation from his neighbor to sleep in the bed of his gone-for-the-weekend roommate. Its not until Holden waits for the train to the city that he uses snow on his face. Throughout the book he keeps thinking fondly of this girl, wanting to call her only to fall out of the mood to do so. I love this passage:
I dont want you to get the idea that she was a goddam icicle or something, just because we never necked or horsed around much. She wasnt. I held hands with her all the time, for instance. That doesnt sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls if you hold hands with them, their goddam hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid theyd bore you or something. Jane was different. Wed get into a goddam movie or something, and right away wed start holding hands, and we wouldnt quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were. Pp 103
I find that passage very amusing and significant because Holden rarely is happy. He also criticizes all movies now as stupid and forces himself to go to one alone while waiting to meet a snobbish friend in the city. He gets very little sleep, tries to get laid by a hooker, tries to get drunk, tries to find out what happened to the ducks in Central Park now the waters frozen over. He provides a graphic picture of the eccentricities of people in the city as well as his own.
I was concerned over him from practically the beginning, but when he feels dizzy and like hell disappear into the street, I really become worried. He feels sure he will die and so do I from frostbite or pneumonia maybe.
The title, Catcher in the Rye, comes from his dream of being on the edge of a rye field where theres a cliff and hes catching all the playing children before they fall off. Im not Dr. Freudine, but his role in the dream is probably two-fold with him wanting to be a child playing at life, but needing to be an adult who catches himself being irresponsible.
This classic, even after all these years, remains extremely popular with young people who can identify with Holden so well. Ive also heard him described as schizophrenic and able to connect with those with that disorder. I myself mostly enjoyed the book, but did find him very sad. I just knew something bad was bound to happen to him. Whether or not it did is what youll find out when you read it. Read it for a realistic, often amusing, coming-of-age picture of an apathetic, possibly schizophrenic teen, how he sees the world and interacts with it.
Salinger has written such an honest and sensitive teen novel that I wonder if he based Holden on himself. I felt a bit letdown by the ending while reading it, but perhaps thats the psychiatrist in me...or the writer...wanting my own ending. Now I notice that the picture on the cover of my paperback edition is of a carousel horse which figures rather prominently in the end, so pay attention to the underlying message.
All in all its a compelling and genuinely witty book. Hope youll check it out!
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