The Catcher in the Rye introduces intelligent, rebellious, audacious Holden Caulfield as he’s just been expelled from yet another prep school for failing too many classes. The problem is he just doesn’t want to apply himself. He’s “goddamn bored,” and he’s got a lot going on mentally. He lost his brother at a young age from Leukemia, and his parents are the type that ship him from private school after private school, despite his flunky track record. He’s got a lot of anxiety, and he can’t stand the pompous, moronic fellas around him.
Unsurprisingly, Holden decides to shake things up by forever ditching Pencey three days before Christmas break, and heading to New York City for a couple of days, just long enough to get “rested up” before his parents get the letter declaring his expulsion. However, his trip into the city doesn’t do much to lift his spirits. He bounces from one place to another, from hotel to bar and back again, trying to figure out how to cheer himself up, but everyone he encounters just leaves him feeling worse, with the only exception being his kid sister, Phoebe. He spends much of his time, no matter what he was physically doing, with his mind mulling over his depression and loneliness- and being far from rested.
Overall, I can see why many people like this book. Holden is quite the character, and his modern use of language makes him an instant rebel from the common 1950’s protagonist. He creates plenty of relatable moments that the reader can connect to- being angry, sad, drunk… however for me, I couldn’t help but get annoyed at Holden. I was over his attitude in about 20 pages. As I pressed on, I can see where the kid is just lost, doesn’t have a lot of friends, and his family doesn’t seem to be the most supportive- even though he’s close with his sister. Yet, he doesn’t garner enough sympathy from me to make me really like him in the long run. I understand this is Salinger’s point- not every protagonist is a hero. However, when I don’t connect with the main character, I find it hard to enjoy the novel.
I also have to say I wasn’t a fan of Salinger’s writing. I can handle the brash commentary but not the redundancy and rambling. Many phrases were repetitive, and though it made the voice of Holden conversational, it made me lose interest in what he had to say. For example:
“She can be very snotty sometimes. She can be quite snotty. “I suppose you failed in every single subject again,” she said- very snotty.”
There were a few lines that resonated with me, and a couple of humorous parts that got me to laugh out loud, but I struggled to be 100% focused on this novel. There were so many sections where Holden would go into a story that had no real purpose before getting back to his previous thought or conversation. This made the pace unbearably slow. For being only 200 -plus pages, it should have been a faster read for me, but my attention kept wandering or I would keep putting off reading the book.
Why is it a classic then?
Salinger definitely gets credit for shaping such a consistent character, and for making him an anti-conformist of the 1950’s era setting. It’s easy to identify this as to why The Catcher in the Rye became such a classic- Holden Cauldfield was the perfect anti-hero. His mouth might be whip-crack sharp, but in general he’s a bit of a sensitive kid with issues that he doesn’t let others see, and he doesn’t try to overcome them- instead, he rolls with the punches, daydreams about what he could have done or should have said, and then proceeds to move on to the next thing without any purpose to change his ways. To some, this could make Holden heroic, in that this character finally reflected the “average Joe”, and that he was deserving of having his story shared too. Either way the readers decide, hero or anti-hero, Salinger’s novel created waves for it’s time period for it’s colorful diction and depiction of teenage angst, making it a popular must-read for adults and young adults alike.