Publisher: Penguin UK; Open Market Edition
Author: JD Salinger
Release Date: March 4, 2010; First published in 1951
Pages: 240 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Classics, Young Adult
Reviewed by: anumit
Writing from a rest home where he’s recuperating from some illness or breakdown, Holden Caulfield tells the story of what happened to him just before the previous Christmas. Holden’s story begins at Pencey Prep on the day of the big football game. Instead of going to the game, Holden, who has just been expelled for failing four of his five classes, visits Mr. Spencer, his history teacher. Mr. Spencer lectures Holden about playing by the rules and thinking about his future. Holden pretends to agree with what he hears, but actually thinks Mr. Spencer is a “phony.” Back in his dorm room, Robert Ackley, Holden’s irritating neighbor, interrupts Holden as he tries to read, and Ward Stradlater, Holden’s conceited and good looking roommate heads out for a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden knows and likes. Before he leaves, Stradlater asks Holden to write an English composition for him while he’s away.
Holden writes about his dead brother Allie’s baseball mitt. When Stradlater returns, he says that the essay isn’t on topic, and refuses to reveal the details of his date. Holden attacks and insults him. Stradlater punches Holden in the nose. Holden decides to leave Pencey early. He takes a train to New York and rents a room at the Edmont Hotel. He soon feels lonely and depressed and starts acting strangely. He wears a red hunting cap everywhere he goes, asks cab drivers what happens to the ducks in the Central Park lagoon during the winter, and wanders around from the Hotel lounge to another bar trying to pick up women whom he claims to hate.
Back at his hotel, the elevator man, Maurice, offers him a prostitute for $5. Holden agrees, but is so uncomfortable when she arrives. He says he can’t have sex because of recent surgery. She demands $10. When he refuses, she returns with Maurice. Maurice punches Holden in the stomach while she takes another five dollars.
The next morning, Holden makes a date with a girl he knows named Sally Hayes. He then wanders around town, and hears a boy singing a song while coming out of church: “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.”
Hoping to find his younger sister, Phoebe, Holden walks all the way to the Museum of Natural history, which he loves for its unchanging exhibits. But he decides not to enter the museum, and takes a cab to meet Sally Hayes instead…
The story is fast paced, I had a lot of dilemmas regarding the first 20 pages of the book itself. At times I’d been accustomed at using expletive words to express my disgust for a particular character.
The protagonist Holden constantly encounters people and situations that strike him as “phony,” a word he applies to anything hypocritical, shallow, superficial, inauthentic, or otherwise fake. He sees such “phoniness” everywhere in the adult world, and believes adults are so phony that they can’t even see their own phoniness. And Holden is right.
Many of the characters in the novel, from Ackley and Stradlater, to Sally, to Mr. Spencer are often phony, saying and doing things that keep up appearances rather than reflect what they truly think and feel.
If “phony” is the most frequently repeated word in The Catcher in the Rye, “crazy,” “madman,” and “depressed” rank close behind it. Because Holden is the narrator of the novel, and seems in so many ways to be a typical teenager battling typical teenage identity crisis, it seems like he uses these words for effect. In other words, when he says he’s crazy he seems to mean that he’s acting oddly, or inconsistently, or stupidly, but not that he’s actually going insane. And when he says he wishes he were dead, it likewise seems at first as if he’s using the phrase as a teenage expression to make his emotions seem as intense to you as they seem to him. But as the novel progresses, it begins to become clear through hints and an intensification of Holden’s own language that Holden really is on the verge of losing it, and really is seriously thinking of killing himself as the only way out of this world he can’t control or understand.
Read it to get a glimpse inside the mind of an adolescent, standing on the threshold of adulthood. A must read for people with teenage kids, may find a thing or two to understand them better. After reading this book, things are definitely going to look different from the other side of the fence where we stand, judging teenagers.