Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel set around the 1950s and is presented through the narration of one character called Holden Caulfield. Holden doesn’t reveal where he is but it is clear that he is undergoing some form of mental treatment in a psychiatric hospital (Costello, p.173). All events take place between Holden’s school holiday and Christmas. Holden has gone through four schools already, always finding a reason to relocate to a new school. At his current school, he is not doing well either. It is clear from the beginning that Holden has problems with his emotions and how to manage them. J.D Salinger, the author of the novel, presents several themes in this captivating narration by Holden Caulfield. The themes fundamentally serve to present the writer’s ideas in his exploration of literary works. Some of the themes that will be discussed in this essay include the theme of alienation as a form of self-protection, the painfulness of growing up, and deception(Pinsker,n.p).
Throughout the story, Holden is always presented as a character that is isolated away from everybody else. He even tells Mr. Spencer that he felt trapped “on the other side” of life. He says,“…But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game”(Salinger, n.p). He is, therefore, left fighting and trying to find his way back into the world in which he feels he doesn’t belong. Nonetheless, Holden uses his isolation to concentrate on himself and prove that he is better than everyone else. His interaction with other people doesn’t go well with him. He gets all worked up and anxious hence he tends to avoid people to protect himself from feeling this way (Costello, p.175). His alienation serves as a little sanctuary for him and his sense of superiority is like a form of self-protection.
The novel is basically about a character’s ascent into maturity. Holden is depicted as a character who is trying to resist the process of maturity. For instance, his thoughts about the Museum of National History demonstrate his fear for change, “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.”(Salinger, n.p). He just wants the understanding and interpretation of everything to be as easy as the statues of Eskimos and Indians. He is guilty of the wrongdoings he sees in others. However, he doesn’t acknowledge the fact that adulthood scares him and only expresses his fears in a few scenes for example, “…sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t”(Salinger, n.p). He thinks that adulthood is a stage of being a hypocrite (phoniness) and he clings to his childhood as he believes it is the stage of innocence (Costello, p.176).
Deception and lies are part and parcel of human life. Holden looks at phoniness as people trying to present themselves as who they are not. He has utmost resentment for people who think they are what they are not and refuse to acknowledge their weaknesses (Salinger, n.p). Lying, as Holden considers, is also a kind of phoniness that indicates insensitivity and cruelty (Salinger, n.p). Despite his criticism of these values, Holden is himself guilty of both. For instance in chapter 2 the conversation between Holden and Spencer goes like“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”
“Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it” (Salinger, n.p). Holden agrees with Spencer verbally but in his mind he thinks the exact opposite. He refuses to accept his own challenges and how they affect those people around him (Pinsker,n.p).
In conclusion,The Catcher in the Rye is a novel rich with themes and lessons. The novel clearly depicts the challenges that come with growing up and relating with others. Holden’s narration reveals how social relationships among human beings can be complex (Pinsker,n.p). Holden, for instance, has been through several different schools until he ends up in isolation in a psychiatric unit. Salinger brings out the theme of fear and deception clearly through the presentation of Holden as a young man facing many challenges that characterize growing up in the 1950s (Costello, p.180).
Costello, Donald P. “The Language of’The Catcher in the Rye’.” American Speech 34.3 (1959): 172-181.
Pinsker, Sanford. The catcher in the rye: Innocence under pressure. Vol. 114.Twayne Pub, 1993.
Salinger, Jerome David. “The Catcher in the Rye (1951).” New York Times (1951): 5.