What's So Enchanting About The Catcher in the Rye?
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“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.” Holden Caulfield, from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
I beg to disagree with you, Holden. I don’t think writers will make great friends. My advice is stick to their books and don’t try to get any closer. Writers in general aren't the most social people in the world. There are exceptions, of course, but most of them are quite happy writing in the isolation of their offices or country cabins. They would most probably hate to have someone intrude upon their privacy.
Holden Caulfield is the main character of the super famous novel The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D. Salinger – a recluse himself – in 1951. It’s a book hard not to identify with, especially if you are male and has been, at some point, 17 years old.
The Catcher In the Rye – Holden Caulfield by Melissa Hatford
I read the book twice so far, and the second time around, a couple of weeks ago, already as a mature man, I found it even more meaningful and relevant.
Most people know the story. Deceptively simple and direct, it describes a couple of days in the life of a teenager who gets kicked out of a fancy boarding school for having flunked all the subjects but English and is sent home for the Christmas holidays. He leaves the school on a Saturday evening – as he can’t wait to get out of the place – although he is only expected at home, in Manhattan, on the following Wednesday, by which time his parents will have received the formal letter from the dean explaining his situation. The reader is, then, taken on a journey following the adventures and thoughts of this charismatic upper-class young man around the streets of 1950s’ New York for three whole days.
Despite the simplicity of the plot, written from the perspective and in the language of a typical teenager of the time (see the table at the bottom explaining the slang used in the book and its meaning), the story tends to fascinate readers. Holden comes across as a very sensitive, intelligent and generous kid. Going through a rough patch in his life, after the death of a younger brother, Holden is completely lost, lonely and depressed. Poignant and melancholic at times, the book is never sentimental, and, despite the subject matter, a lot of irony and humor underpins most of the character’s commentary and the events narrated during the time we are allowed to spend with him.
Much of the warmth Holden exerts on the reader comes from the fact that he loves his little sister and admires his older brother, who’s a writer - although Holden thinks that he shouldn’t have gone to Hollywood to prostitute his talent writing for the movies. Holden hates the movies - another of his endearing peculiarities. The love for his sister is wonderfully translated in a metaphorical carrousel scene at the end of the novel– which I won’t discuss here to avoid spoiling it for the prospective reader.
Readers also enjoy the nuanced way in which the character describes his relationships with dorm mates, colleagues, teachers, and girlfriends. He is always either planning or actually calling people in the middle of the night, and these pained passages, emblematic of his loneliness and need for human contact, are paradoxically hilarious.
Unlike Holden, when I finished the book, I didn’t feel like calling and befriending Salinger, for the reasons I pointed out at the beginning of this text. Nevertheless, if I were still a teenager, I would surely love to have Caulfield as a close friend. I would have to ask Tom Swayer and Huck Finn if he could hang out with us, though.
Glossary: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (Wikipedia): “Critical reviews agree that the novel accurately reflected the teenage colloquial speech of the time. Words and phrases that appear frequently include:
“Phony” – superficial, hypocritical, and pretentious
“That killed me” – I found that hilarious or astonishing
“Flit” – homosexual
“Crumby” – inadequate, insufficient, and/or disappointing
“Snowing” – sweet-talking
“I got a bang out of that” – I found it hilarious or exciting
“Shoot the bull” – have a conversation containing false elements
“Give her the time” – sexual intercourse
“Chew the fat” – small-talk”