emiliaede, May 3, 2010 (view all comments by emiliaede)
Holden Caulfield is considered to be a timeless character in American literature. His story about the struggles of growing up relates to many people in today’s society. J.D Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye will continue to be read for generations to come due to its important central message about coming of age.
The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of Holden Caulfield, a 17 year old who cannot accept that he is growing up. His first-person narration, told in a flashback style, portrays a long weekend after his removal from Pencey Prep. Holden is quickly identified as a rebellious and troubled kid because he reveals that he has been kicked out of 3 previous schools prior to Pencey. Through interactions with various minor characters, the reader can infer background information and character traits about Holden even though he does not state them himself. He travels home to New York City and spends a couple days wandering around the city. Various events and interactions with people allow more information about Holden’s present state to be revealed. Eventually he makes his way home to his family’s apartment to visit Phoebe, his younger sister. Phoebe is one of the few characters whom Holden respects and admires. Later, Holden visits his former English teachers, Mr. Antolini, who expresses concern about Holden’s future. Ultimately, the plot encompasses Holden’s complex struggle to growing up and let go of his childhood. His skewed perceptions of innocence and “phoniness” as well as change versus permanence prevent Holden from moving on in his life.
Ultimately, one of the most unique aspects of J.D. Salinger’s novel is his portrayal of permanence versus change. Holden cannot accept that the world around him will constantly change, no matter what he tries to do to stop it. The only people that Holden expresses fondness towards are Phoebe, his dead brother Allie, and childhood friend, Jane. All of these people played prominent roles in his childhood, and now everyone but Phoebe is gone. Holden notes that even Phoebe is beginning to become too emotional. He still holds idealistic childhood memories in his mind and replaces them with reality. His memories are permanent and definite, and the future is unsure and changing. The fact that these three people are the most important in Holden’s life proves his inability to move on and accept change. Also, when Holden remembers childhood visits to the museum, he notes the appeal that the museum has. “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south”(157). J.D. Salinger effectively contrasts this unique conflict by comparing Holden’s memories to reality.
I would recommend The Catcher in the Rye to other teens and people who have already gone through adolescence. Teens and adults are most likely to relate to Holden’s struggles because they are experiencing or have experienced it for themselves. The book does present some sexual aspects, and more mature language, so older, more mature readers would better understand the complex situations. Older readers would also benefit from a better reflection and relate their experiences to Holden’s more effectively. The novel is a short, relatively quick read, although many details can be easily overlooked. Re-reading this novel would not be time consuming, and would benefit in understanding Holden’s character more effectively. Although Holden’s character often presents controversial opinions, the novel is definitely well worth reading. No matter how one’s life is currently, everyone can relate to this timeless coming of age story in some way.
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lch727, May 3, 2010 (view all comments by lch727)
Certain books existing in American culture are considered “classics”, recognizable by thousands of people, even if not everyone has actually read them. Certainly The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger qualifies as one of these classic novels because of its timeless themes and because of Holden Caulfield’s character.
The Catcher in the Rye is the story of the infamous seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield. The story follows his first-person narration of the events following his removal from Pencey Prep. He makes his way to New York City and spends a few days around town. Eventually he sneaks into his family’s apartment to visit his younger sister, Phoebe. Later, Holden visits one of his former English teachers, Mr. Antolini, who treats him with sympathy and respect. Ultimately, the book culminates into Holden’s dramatic struggle of growing up, and his perceptions of the innocence of childhood and “phoniness” of adults.
Holden’s character struck me as the most interesting part of the novel. It seems like he would be a character that most readers would either hate or love, but I found my feelings about him somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. His extreme criticism quickly grows repetitive and annoying because it is extremely predictable and unchanging throughout the book. Even more disturbing is the fact that Holden recognizes his poor behavior. He admits, “I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.” As a reader, I found it frustrating that Holden could identify his horrible habits, but he made no efforts to change them.
However, at times, I also felt sympathetic toward Holden’s character because he does not make lasting connections with the people who could truly help him. Instead, Holden often pities other people, even if it comes directly after having criticism toward them. For example, he says, “I felt sorry as hell for him, all of a sudden” before he leaves from visiting his sick, old teacher, Mr. Spencer. Holden also shows respect for his younger sister, Phoebe. His selfish remark, “I started thinking how old Phoebe would feel if I got pneumonia and died… She’d feel pretty bad if something like that happened. She likes me a lot. I mean she’s quite fond of me” is later countered by his observation at the zoo. While Phoebe rides the carrousel, Holden says, “It played that same song about fifty years ago when I was a little kid. That’s the one nice thing about carrousels, they always play the same songs.” This recollection highlights the soft-side of Holden’s character and clearly demonstrates the fact that his perceptions are confused. He resists change in regards to maturity; as a result, his views about childhood being completely innocent and honest while adults only act like “phony” hypocrites are extremely false. Holden does not understand himself as he mentally breaks down, so I find it difficult to criticize him too harshly. Ultimately, the question of whether Holden’s desirable characteristics outweigh his flaws must be left to each individual reader but I think that his character and perceptions effectively capture the spirit of troubled youth.
I would recommend The Catcher in the Rye to others. Teens who read the book can probably identify more easily with Holden’s juxtaposition of childhood and adulthood because they are going through it themselves. I think older, more mature readers gain more of a reflection on their own experiences after reading the book. The Catcher in the Rye is a quick read and I found it worth the time to then compare, contrast, and reflect upon my own experiences and journey of growing up with Holden’s perceptions. Although everyone has vastly different insights about growing up and maturity, everyone can relate in some way to the novel because it is a period of life everyone goes through.
No matter what a reader’s overall opinion about Holden Caulfield is or the themes of the book, I now understand the reasons why The Catcher in the Rye is recognized as a classic American novel by many people.
tiers4fears, May 3, 2010 (view all comments by tiers4fears)
Pat Tierney-The Catcher in the Rye has been criticized for nearly six decades and continues to sell millions of copies a year. J.D. Salinger published this novel in 1951 and since then it has been arguably the most controversial piece of American literature. The portrayal of sexuality, profanity, and teenage angst has made this story banded in several public libraries across America. Many can make the argument that The Catcher in the Rye no longer holds its validity and that its themes are worn out. These ideas are flawed, because the story’s message is timeless. No matter what generation it is, all can identify with the confusion, loneliness, and depression that Holden Caulfield endures.
Holden Caulfield isn’t quite a normal teenager. In fact, one could say he is quite the opposite. After being kicked out of his fifth private school, Caulfield decides to go to New York City for a few days rather than telling his parents. Once he gets to New York he embarks on a journey that includes excessive drinking, paying for a prostitute, and attempting to come to terms with who he is. One the way he encounters old friends and memories that assist him with his journey on finding purpose in life.
Holden’s story begins at his previous private school Pencey, which is described as being superficial and full of “phonies”. Holden also depicts a conversation he had with the headmaster about how life is a game.” If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right- I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it?”(8). Pencey is the beginning of the relationship between Holden and the reader, because it here where one can relate. All of us can understand Holden’s frustration of being misunderstood. This frustration follows Holden after he leaves Pencey and goes to New York.
After a cray night spent in Manhattan, Holden returns to his hotel room only to find himself all alone. The opportunity of buying a prostitute came up and Holden seizes it, but rather than trying to have sex with the girl he tries to make conversation. Holden makes excuses of why he doesn’t want to have sex. In all actuality he does not feel comfortable having sex with a stranger and believes sex should between two people who love each other. “ I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing. Her green dress hanging in the closet and all. And besides, I don’t think I could ever do it with somebody who sits in a stupid movie all day long. I really don’t think I could” (96). Sexuality was a forbidden taboo in the 1950’s and never brought up. However, J.D. Salinger writes about it because it’s real. The truth is that sex is apart of growing up, and that Holden is struggling with that phase in life.
Finally after a day and night of wooing and drinking with women and old friends Holden talks with his younger sister. His sister Phoebe is portrayed as the hero in the novel and attempts to help him try to enjoy more in life. She accomplishes this by asking what he truly likes. “You don’t like anything that’s happening”(169). Although this action does not help Holden right away it does guide him understanding his teacher.
Holden’s teacher Mr. Antolini is the only adult that Holden respects. From fear of being caught by his parents, Holden goes and confides with Antolini in his apartment. Antolini tries to aid him and explains to him about proper education. He explains to Holden that an education is important for one’s personal growth, and that it doesn’t require you to lose your originality. The speech is an essential for Holden’s growth and anyone can learn from this lesson. “ The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” (188). The author has Antolini tell Holden this, however one can argue that he uses Antolini to deliver a message of living.
Currently there is a debate of whether or not The Catcher In The Rye holds any relevance. There is the argument that the piece is dated and has worn out its stay as popular American Literature. The fact of the matter is there will always be people seeking to find acceptance. These people may seem like outsiders to society, but really they are just misunderstood. For these people this novel will always hold literary merit.
The truth behind this book is that it caused a lot of controversy back in the 1950’s. Now it may not hold the same bar it once did, The Catcher In The Rye is a timeless novel that can transcend through generations. Confusion, loneliness, and depression will always conflict with teenagers and will be what readers can identify with. The struggle to belong and find meaning in life is the secret behind the success of The Catcher In the Rye. If you are looking for a way to grasp a deeper meaning on life than this story is for you.
Jose Juarez, January 9, 2010 (view all comments by Jose Juarez)
How can anyone dislike this original work? Although it may seem primitive and dull now it was a breakthrough in its time and definitely worth reading now if your a true literature lover. What almost killed it for me was that it is forced on high school students when in reality, The Catcher in the Rye, has merit to stand on its own.
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Be Holden, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Be Holden)
I decided to go back and reread some of the books I was "forced" to read in high school those many years ago. I had a copy of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" sitting on a shelf, and decided to start in. I was mesmerized by the writing style, and especially sucked into Holden's world.
I don't remember being this engrossed those many years ago, but I was now that I have a little more wisdom under my teeth.
On completing the story, I found that I identified with Holden much more at my age now than I did as a young "know-it-all" at the ripe old age of 16.
"The Catcher in the Rye" is now one of my all time favorite books, and I look forward to visiting again with Holden about every ten years to see his perspective on life once again.
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Little Brown and Company -
by Frank Kermode, Review from Spectator, 05/30/1958,
"Repetitive, indecent, often very funny, it is wonderfully sustained by the author, who achieves all those ancient effects to be got from a hero who is in some ways inferior, and in some ways superior, to the reader....Why, then, with all this to admire, do I find something phoney in the book itself?....[T]he adult view of adolescence, insinuated by skillful faking, is agreeable to predictable public taste....[It] is what the consumer needs....The boy's attitudes to religion, authority, art, sex and so on are what smart people would like other people to have, but cannot have themselves, because of their superior understanding."
Anyone who has read J.D. Salinger's New Yorker stories ? particularly A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, The Laughing Man, and For Esme ? With Love and Squalor, will not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is fully of children. The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children's voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden's voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.
Holden, knowing he is to be expelled from school, decides to leave early. He spends three days in New York City and tells the story of what he did and suffered there.
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