Catcher in the Rye
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So, what is it about this book? What makes people relate to Holden Caulfield? And is there any reason I should try it again?
From the many comments about this book in LT threads I wonder if it's a book that's best read for the first time as a kid.
Also, I really enjoyed the descriptions of NYC in that time period. It takes you to a different place and time. And don't forget that it was kind of groundbreaking when it was published. After years of reading books derived from Catcher, it won't seem original.
I felt the same way about the Bell Jar, too.
Like all good books, Catcher engages with the society around it. This is a book that appeared in the 1951, in the aftermath of World War II, with the Cold War under way and, not unrelated to this, in a society in which conformity was highly valued. Most of white America enjoyed a standard of living unparalleled in human history and to work hard and consume was to perform a patriotic duty. Holden, in his own way, questions this.
In this sense, Holden is an outsider. But I think at the heart of the book is a sense of loss and a desire to belong. This is perhaps what has made the book so popular: Holden is ironic and funny but also very vulnerable. He is living in the world that is unfolding after the horrors of World War II and in the shadow of the bomb. If he has little faith in the world at large it is because the world is indifferent to him; the death of his talented, charismatic brother another example of how senseless and fragile life often is.
I'm sorry people here didn't enjoy it more because I still think it is a wonderful book. Maybe one more go...
but it has been a few years since I last read it, so I'm sure I could use a re-read...
I found Holden a very likeable character. As someone else says, he wants to belong, and he wants (and tries) to engage with people honestly. Certainly I'd find anyone a little odd who didn't find him articulating to a greater or lesser extent their teenage self. And I don't think his voice is scattery, babbling or rambling; certainly not more so than the voices around the water cooler.
As for rereading it, it's a pretty short book which you could do in a few hours one Sunday afternoon / evening. I'd say it's worth that amount of time to at least get to the end and view it as a whole. We're not talking Middlemarch here. So, why not?
And, all plot/characterization issues aside, I think Salinger was just a damn good writer. I particularly enjoy how he writes about children.
The best thing about Catcher is that it caused me to read all of J.D. Salinger's other works. I love pretty much everything else he wrote 'way more than Catcher. Nine Stories, Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction, Franny and Zooey, plus all his (pirated) uncollected short stories and stuff you can still only find in old magazines. They are all re-readable.
The Glass family is wonderful - Seymour, Buddy, Boo-Boo, the twins, Franny, Zooey (is there another brother I missed?) - and I agree with #16 Scratch about how he writes about children. They are magical, and innocent, and can be brilliant.
"THIS guy doesn't even know what backgammon is. They don't even HAVE one." --from one of the Nine Stories whose name I can't recall.
Also, the book does a good job of capturing the context of the times in which it was written, and the themes of mortality and impermanence, social hypocrisy, etc, are topics I find interesting.
Having said all of that...if you want to read a great Salinger book, read Franny and Zooey. Much better than Catcher in the Rye.
The very definition of a "troubled teen," no? And thus JDS made a particular character's situation "universally" relevant -- except that now, in the post-deconstructionist age of lit crit, we approach that concept with a grain of salt, as evidenced upthread several times.
And the context of its time--oh god yes. "Under the Biltmore clock"--so, so long ago. Or, as a friend of mine summarized it, "When even the bad kids wore ties to school."
Salinger participated in those landings. He was in the military before the war started, in part so he could afford night classes in creative writing. He met Hemingway during the war. He took a typewriter in foxholes. After the war, he was an intelligence officer in the de-Nazification of Germany. Then he checked himself into a mental hospital in Austria for shell shock (post-traumatic stress syndrome) and, as in Farewell to Arms, married his nurse.
Unlike Holden, Salinger enjoyed prep school, sent his kids to prep schools and the Ivy League, and wanted no part of the hippie movement which tried to claim him. On formal occasions he wore an ascot (!). He met with his war buddies the rest of his life. Still does, as far as I know.
I can't help seeing The Catcher in the Rye as a quest that almost mimics Salinger's. Odysseus went on a quest for home. Others have gone on quests, for gold, to test one's mettle, for meaning in life, or for permanent values in a world that wants to undermine them.
Holden Caulfield wound up in a mental hospital. So did Salinger. But Salinger made it out with most of his faculties intact.
Anyway, I always suspected Bananafish was more autobiographical than Catcher. (But only up to the denouement, of course.)