This is another book – just like The Great Gatsby– that I read for a school assignment, but I’d still like to give my own thoughts and perspective on the writing, characters, and so forth.
This review contains very mild spoilers
To give a brief synopsis, The Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D. Salinger and published in 1951, follows 17-year old Holden Claufield as he is (once again) expelled, this time from an extremely expensive boarding school due to his poor work ethic. Although he is asked to not return after Christmas break, he decides to leave a few days early. Fearful of his mother and father’s reaction after they find out he was expelled, he decides to spend the next few days before the start of Christmas Break in New York City before going home. The rest of the story follows Holden as he journeys from place to place in the city and comes across faces new and old, all the while becoming more estranged and bitter of society.
In my English class, one thing we discussed was how J.D. Salinger was well known for pioneering, or at least popularizing, this stream of consciousness style of writing. The story takes place from a first person perspective, and we as the readers are very much immersed into Holden thoughts, which often diverged considerably from the main plot. Often times Holden will go off on a tangent about something that will ultimately lead to an entirely different tangent about a different subject. I think whether or not you can get into this writing style depends on your tastes. On the one hand, it does get a little frustrating, especially if what he’s talking about distracts from the action or adds little in the way of the narrative. While it did frustrate me at times, especially when I just wanted to get back to the action, a lot of what he did ramble on about, at least the way I saw it, added to his character and gave me some more insight on who he his.
I think what J.D Salinger did which really aided itself to this stream of consciousness narrative is that he kept the plot to a minimum. Nothing of great magnitude really happens in the story, we just follow Holden as he travels around the city and interacts with different people. This gave way for more distractions from the main action since there really isn’t much plotting to begin with. The story, in fact, feels like a little slice of life narrative, albeit it bit more unique than just an everyday occurrence for Holden. There is still the challenge of Holden grappling with his ever growing bitterness for the world and society. Even the new “moral” that he learns by the end of the story is very subtle in how it is conveyed, and it’s not even really too clear if he will follow through with that newfound view of life.
From my class discussions, one of biggest complaints, besides the stream of consciousness style narrative, was with Holden himself. On the one hand, I don’t think he’s a very likable character. Even though he is a jerk I think that we are still supposed to root for him, but I more often than not found myself more frustrated with him. However, the strange thing is the reasons why I don’t like Holden are also the reasons why I relate to him the most: he’s a teenager. He’s hypocritical, he’s bitter towards society, he complains and actively calls out other people for being “phony,” and he has more than a few stints of depression. So while I don’t actively like Holden, he does feel like a genuinely real teenager. If that’s what Salinger’s intent was (to make Holden feel real as opposed to likable) he nailed it.
Because the story was being told from a biased point of view, it was very hard to get a grasp on the various supporting characters; however, I will say that I found Holden’s sister, Phoebe, to be my personal favorite character. I thought her young, sassy attitude was a great addition to the story and a great contrast to Holden’s attitude. This brings me to probably my favorite thing that the book tackles: it’s themes. I won’t give what they are, but it’s done so subtly that if I was not analyzing this book in an English class, I think I would have glossed over them completely. The themes that the book presents are very compelling, and while some might think that the ending is a bit dissatisfying, I rather like how the story is kept open ended on what Holden will chose to do. Something else I enjoyed about the book is that it solemn just tells you how things affect or have affected Holden. There are a couple of heavy hitting moments that one would think Holden would go more into, but he doesn’t. Either Salinger wanted the reader to contemplate themselves how they think those traumatic moments have affected Holden, or maybe because, at the time, those social issues were never even brought up in novels before.
Overall, I think this is one book that I actively enjoyed more because I was able to discuss and analyze it in English class, so I was able to identity and appreciate a lot of the deeper themes and character moments. The book and Holden did actively frustrate me, but I also believe that was Salinger’s intent from the start. I think whether or not you will enjoy this narrative style and a character like Holden depends on your taste, but I would still recommend checking it out. I am glad I read it, but I can’t say I actively enjoyed it as much as, say, The Great Gatsby.