The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
reviewed by Emily Cupo
J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye is a timeless classic that speaks for all generations, past, present, and future. The plot follows sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator, as he reflects on parts of his tumultuous childhood, his experiences at the many academies he’s attended (and flunked out of), and the people he encounters throughout the book. The reflections give insight to the way he thinks, acts, and processes certain situations. The most tragic and emphasized part of his childhood is the loss of his younger brother Allie, which had a profound effect on his life and shaped his current mindset. In spite of all this, Holden finds immense solace in thinking about and talking to his little sister, Phoebe. Their relationship truly reveals to readers how much he values and admires a childlike, simple view of life. He perceives many of the people he’s come across in his years as “phony” and seeks to find a certain authenticity and innocence in those around him. His preference to associate with people like that, paired with his contemplative, morose manner, causes him to alienate himself. Holden is smart, excelling in more thoughtful areas of study like English, (despite flunking out of multiple schools) but his often naïve outlook on the way things should be affects his outlook on life and personal happiness. Holden is extremely despondent and glum, repeatedly saying things like “Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can’t imagine”. (p.110) The title of the story is significant, as it is derived from Holden’s ideal occupation, which also correlates with his desire to be around the honest and innocent. As he sits with Phoebe one night, he explains it to her, finally fathoming it and saying, “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 is around—nobody big, I mean—except me. 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.” (p.191) and he goes on to say “but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be”. There is the literal meaning of Holden wanting to save the kids from physical injury, but overall, the metaphoric meaning is even more profound. Essentially, all he wants to do is save them from falling over the cliff as it signifies the leap into adulthood and the loss of innocence, something Holden believes should be avoided at all costs.
As I finished this book, I realized that it left me with so much to think about and with even more to say, beyond the set word count. I thoroughly enjoyed it and all it left me to contemplate after I completed reading it. I would highly recommend this book to people searching for an ageless Bildungsroman novel.