A short biographical sketch of the author
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel written by the American author Jerome David Salinger, born on January 1th 1919 in New York City. His parents were very wealthy, and he was raised in Manhattan. Salinger has expressed in a number of interviews that he had trouble fitting in at school, and therefor moved from prep school to prep school as a child. In 1934, his parents decided to send him to a military academy. After he graduated, he attended several universities, including Colombia University, where he focused on creative writing. However, he did not graduated from any of these. In 1942, Salinger was drafted to the army to fight for the United States in World War II, where his main task was to interrogate prisoners of war. During the 1940s, the author submitted numerous short stories to papers such as The New Yorker, but with little success - until 1948, when they finally published one called A Perfect day for Bananafish. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 by Little, Brown and Company. Despite the fact that it was banned in several countries, as well as some U.S. schools due to excessive use of curse words, the novel instantly became a success. In present time, it is still very popular and considered an American classic.
A brief plot summary
The story is about Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy from Manhattan. He is privileged, yet troubled, and has recently been expelled from his current private school, which has happened several times in the past too. He decides to leave the school a little earlier than he is allowed, due to the fact that he is not coming back anyway and figures he could use a vacation. He goes back to Manhattan where he grew up, but chooses to stay a couple of nights at a hotel instead of going home. Throughout his long weekend alone in New York City, we get to join him on his journey. He meets new people and gain new experiences, in addition to meeting up with old friends. We see society through his eyes, in very detailed descriptions. The story is told chronologically, however it does sometimes move back and forth, depending on what Holden wants to tell us and memories he has. Eventually, he has to face himself and reflect on how he wants to live his life.
The story takes place in the beginning of the 1950s, a couple of weeks before Christmas. The main action in the first part of the story happens in Pennsylvania, at a all-boys private school called Pencey Prep. The second part of the story takes place in New York City, where Holden takes us to important landmarks during the day, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station and Rockefeller Center. At night, he shows us glimpse of music bars and clubs packed with people from all over the world. The story was written in the1950s as well, after World War II, which is reflected in the authors focus and language. The main character is a product of the war and the counterculture. He represents the restless post-war generations loss of innocence, in addition to a general feeling of isolation.
Holden Caulfield: Holden is the main character, narrator and protagonist of the novel. He comes from a somewhat wealthy family in New York City, with married parents and three siblings, one of whom died three years earlier. He is 16 years old and attends a private school called Pencey Prep in Pennsylvania. In the past, he has flunked out of several private schools. He has recently been expelled from his current school as well, due to the fact that he was unable to apply himself and failed most of his classes. In addition, despite his young age, Holden drinks, swears and smokes a lot. Based on the way he narrates, Holden appears both cynical and gratuitous. As a teenager, he is struggling with separating childhood from adulthood and growing up. He describes all adults as "phony", and finds society around him to be almost unbearable, which leaves him on the verge of emotional collapse. He is having a hard time finding himself, and frequently expresses that he is very lonely. Phoebe Caulfield: Phoebe is Holden's younger sister, whom he truly cares about. Her innocents, honesty and the fact that she actually understands him is his only consistent source of happiness in the story. She is only 10 years old, but very intelligent for her age. Phoebe is the one who gets Holden to reflect and open up about what he would like to do with his life.
D.B. Caulfield: Holden is very proud of and admires his older brother D.B., who has become a somewhat famous writer. He is happy that his brother has made it on his own and has become wealthy. However, he disapproves of the fact that D.B. has started writing for the film industry and "sold himself to Hollywood". Allie Caulfield: Allie is the sibling who died. He was the youngest of the brothers, and past away due to leukemia three years earlier - Holden misses him a great deal and is tormented by his passing. According to him, Allie was brilliant and the best of the Caulfields. Stradlater: Stradlater is Holden's roommate at Pencey, and described as "a sexy bastard". He is a stereotypical jock; well-groomed and self-involved. Additionally, he is also described as "a secret slob" and very phony. Ackley: Ackley lives in the same dorm as Holden and Stradlater at Pencey. He has terrible hygiene and is "a terrific bore". Holden dislikes him a great deal, but sometimes seeks his company anyway. Jane Gallagher: She is Holdens childhood crush, and is still constantly in his thoughts - whenever something happens he want to give her a call, but never does.
The major conflict throughout the whole story is Holdens psyche. He is very lonely, but doesn't really know how to interact with people on a adult level, due to the fact that he finds adulthood difficult and challenging. The climax of the story is when Holden realizes that he can't handle social situations in the same way as other people, phonies. He begins to question his own characteristic and becomes aware of how he is constantly judging other people.
The theme of the story is how growing up can be challenging. The story illustrates how Holden is trying to find acceptance and stability in a broken society that he doesn't really understand. He is not willing to admit that adulthood scares him, so instead he uses alienation as a form of self-protection. Additionally, he wants to protect innocent children, like his younger sister, from growing up and become phony like all adults he knows. Also, mental health is a important theme - how many people, both youths and adults, can be torn between wanting to be isolated and needing companionship. Consequently, The Catcher in the Rye tells a story of how a gentile soul is eventually broken by society.
I will mention only one important symbol in the novel, even though there are several significant ones. Holden purchases a red hunting hat early on in the story. This random item has become a well-recognized symbol in American literature; representing individuality and uniqueness, due to the fact that it is different from any of his other clothing items.
A personal evaluation
I chose to read The Catcher in the Rye due to the fact that it is considered an American classic, and therefor essential in literary history and important to have knowledge about. I found the novel somewhat difficult to read. As I have mentioned, the author has made the main character very descriptive in the way he speaks and expresses himself. As a result, it took me a while to read and understand everything. Also, it is a complex story, which makes it challenging to describe. At the same time, this novel is nothing like anything I have ever read before, which made it a great experience. In this context, I would like to mention three main factors which I feel are important. Firstly, I like how the main character early on says that he "is the most terrific liar you will ever meet". As a result, I find myself wondering throughout the story if what he is telling me really happened, or if he is just making it up to seem more interesting? I found this to be both frustrating and thrilling at the same time. Secondly, I enjoyed how the author has included so many characters who all have very distinctive personalities, which all typical teenagers have to deal with when growing up: friends, teachers, parents, older brothers, younger sisters, jocks, nerds, first loves and so on. I believe everybody has felt the way Holden does about all these personalities at some point in their lives, which to my mind makes the story very relatable and universal. Thirdly, I love the fact that the title The Catcher in the Rye is really a metaphor. You do not get to know what it means until almost the end of the book. At that point, I had to re-think the whole story, and I felt the meaning of this metaphor really added a whole new level to the book, and made it much deeper. As a result, I would definitely recommend this to others.
Salinger, J.D. (2010). The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Penguin http://www.biography.com/people/jd-salinger-9470070, 20.01.2014 http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0758409/, 20.01.2014