Novel: The Catcher in the Rye

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours 

The Catcher in the Rye is American writer J.D.Salinger’s most famous work, the controversial story of 3 days in the life of Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year old boy who also narrates the book, addressing the reader directly throughout. A modern day coming of age novel, the book is often derided for appealing to the pretentious child who has just discovered the cultural capital a book can bestow, more a prop for the pocket of a jacket than true literature, with reasons pointed to including the supposed lack of a ‘moral’ or ‘message’ and the subversive nature of the text.To properly address the criticisms levelled at the would be time consuming and pointless, and what is below is my personal reasons for enjoying the book, rather than a point by point rebuttal to those who don’t.

 The Catcher in the Rye hinges on its central character, told as it is from the first person perspective, with heavy use of colloquialism and slang. this choice to frame the book as an almost autobiographical work of the fictional protagonist contributes greatly to its lasting appeal, with the style of Caulfield being unique and endlessly memorable. this personal touch can be seen from Holden’s dismissal of the majority of humanity as “phonies” to his joyful exaggeration of feeling that manages to capture the teenage mindset in a way no author has managed before or since. Indeed at the moment when Holden arbitrarily decides that he doesn’t want to visit the museum he’s been extolling the virtues of for almost an entire chapter he simply says “all of a sudden I wouldn’t have gone inside for a million bucks” an irrational mood swing that anybody who can recall their teenage years will be able to empathise with infinitely. This creation of a living, breathing character is the secret to The Catcher in the Rye’s enduring appeal, as whilst the reader may not be able to identify with the world of prep schools, record buying and picture houses Salinger so masterfully creates it’s impossible not to identify with the bewildered, jaded, cynical and undeniably human 17 year old kid he places into this world.

Many who dismiss the book have levelled the criticism that its problem is that Caulfield is just not likeable enough, pointing out that he is often selfish, rude and rebellious, but this is exactly the point. The protagonist is at times unlikeable because he is a 17 year old boy, and what 17 year old boy have we ever known, or indeed been, who has not been full of themselves, stubborn and annoying? In crafting an accurate picture of a teenager Salinger has crafted a character that everyone should be able to empathise with, not because he is like us now, but because he is like we were once, The Catcher in the Rye does not seek to tell a story, it seeks to create a character. In short the 3 days in Holden Caulfield’s life are not interesting because of what happens, but because of who they happen to, and therein lies the true genius of this great American novel.


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