One of the books which has been on my to-read list for a very long time. After having read it now, I understand why it’s a classic. Described usually as a coming of age book recommended to teenagers, I think it can mean something to everyone who reads it at any age. It’s a beautifully written book exploring the mind of a person who rejects the world for what it is.
First, let me tell you this, Holden Caulfield is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sixteen years old, Holden at different parts in the book seems like a wise soul stuck in the body of a teenager. Everybody, Holden says, accuses him of acting like a twelve year old. He doesn’t deny it but doesn’t agree that it is completely true as he says, “…sometimes I act a lot older than I am—I really do—but people never notice it.” He is hyper-sensitive and hyper-imaginative and struggles with how “phony” the society can be. Written in the 1950s, JD Salinger crafted Holden Caulfield’s character to capture the frustration and angst of those who don’t fit in. For example, he doesn’t understand the socially accepted mechanics of life when he notes that you say, “Glad to’ve met you” to people you might not be glad to meet.
Holden spends three days in hiding in New York where he meets people who he knows and strangers who are kind enough to have a conversation with him. Reading Holden’s thoughts felt like I was having a conversation with him. When he describes an incident from the past he uses phrases like, “I really am.”, “I really do.” and “It really does.” as if trying to make sure you believe what he says. He is double-minded and extremely self-critical. But his innocence is seen in conversations he tries to have with the taxi-driver where he asks about what happens to the ducks in the winter when the lake is frozen. He appreciates the little things in life and says, “I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.”
Holden is shown to truly care about the innocence of the children in the world and expresses how he would like to save every child from harm by being a catcher in the rye. Despite how much his thoughts affect his body he holds onto this vision invincibly.
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
A defining aspect of the book is the relationship that Holden shared with his late brother, Allie. When Allie dies Holden didn’t take it well. He carries Allie’s baseball mitt with all the poems that he had written on it in his suitcase. When he is most depressed he talks to Allie and hopes he helps him get through the tough times. He cherishes the relationship with his younger sister, Phoebe (who is such an engaging child). When she asked him what he doesn’t hate in the world, he replies with – “And I like doing what I’m doing right now. Sitting here with you, and talking, and thinking about stuff, and–“. Like I said, he isn’t a guy to who enjoys the joys of the obvious things the other “phonies” would. Holden wears a red hunting hat in the beginning of the book which goes on to symbolize his individuality and uniqueness. And, sure he is unique and one of the best sketched out characters.
There have been mixed reviews about this book and the current teenagers don’t associate to this book as much they did back in the 1960s. But, then again, this is a generation where you aren’t praised for not fitting in. For me though, there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about this book. So, why did I love Holden? I love how honest he is. I love his exaggeration. I love how he treasure the little joys and how he loves his sister. I love how he starts conversations with strangers and talks about Romeo and Juliet.
When Holden reads a book and likes it a lot he wishes the author was a close friend who he could call up. When I reached the last page, I just wanted to give Holden a hug and tell him that everything will be okay. The last line ends with him saying, “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. ” as if to assure us that he is more tolerant of the “phonies”. I really enjoyed this book, I mean it – I really did.
Some of the many lines I liked from the book:
“I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot. ”
“That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”
“I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”
“People are always ruining things for you.”
“Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
“All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”
“Make sure you marry someone who laughs at the same things you do.”