Catcher in the Rye

Posted by Mike

So Linda and Jenny raved about The Catcher in the Rye. Jenny had read it three times. Linda said the writing was spectacular. I guess it’s kinda hard to live up to superlatives all of the time. So since Linda was reading it for two book clubs I thought I’d give it a try, having neglected it the first time around. I did. I read it. What’s the big deal, I said. Another coming of age story; had enough of those. Linda said it wasn’t a coming of age story at all. I thought about it and sort of agreed with her. It’s more of an adolescent tragedy; though come to think of it, it’s sort of like a coming of age thing, except that you don’t have the great outcome that you’d expect from that kind of story. The outcome’s a little uncertain – to say the least. Guess I wasn’t in the mood for an adolescent tragi-comedy; or maybe I’m so far past “coming of age” that it’s positively ludicrous; or maybe the life of a maladjusted rich kid from New York City in the 1940’s is just something I can’t understand or relate to.

Linda said to me, “What’s wrong with Holden?” I really couldn’t answer that on the spot. I thought I should be able to. You know, my being a psychologist and all that. So I vamped. I know; it was dishonest; but at least I’m telling you the truth now. Then I thought about it for a while. A couple of things came to mind. First of all Holden had no adult whom he could really confide in – someone who truly seemed to understand him and that he could talk to.  Certainly not his parents, who were too preoccupied with parties and their position in society and in doing things the right way – although to tell the truth we really don’t get a clear picture of what Holden’s parents are like. Then I thought that there really isn’t anything wrong with Holden; but what’s wrong is society and everyone and everything else. Salinger really makes a pretty good case for society being the problem. Holden clearly has issues: his younger brother dies of leukemia; he witnesses the death of a fellow student who was being traumatized by other boys at school. He doesn’t fit in. He sees the phoniness of the society that he is a part of; he can’t and won’t adjust. He fails in school after school – and finally has a breakdown.

Not a pretty story. It’s really a testament to the superficiality of the upper-middle class values of the Eastern establishment in the 1940’s or 1950’s, at least as Salinger saw it. Have things changed since then? I don’t know since most of my experience has been in the provinces. I expect the same kind of phoniness goes on; I just hope that there are more redemptive opportunities available now for kids like Holden Caulfield than there were when he was in school. Do I recommend your reading Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? Well, it’s considered an American classic.  It’s a comic tragedy; but it’s also an indictment of some important aspects of our culture. We need to heed what it’s telling us about ourselves.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Catcher in the Rye

  1. Jenny

    I think you nailed what Salinger was after. It is more of a testament of the failures of society and how that personally relates to Holden. Its tragicness ultimately keeps us from feeling like it’s a coming of age story, as you said, but it is – just a dark one.

    Excellent review.

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