Firstly, I don’t know what I have to write will add a lot more to what has already been written about this cult classic. It’s simply one of those books one must read in their lifetime.
The story begins when Holden Caufield is expelled from yet another prep school, Pencey. Before he leaves, Holden narrates his school life and some of his fellow students, none of whom he particular likes. Phoniness and superficiality is something that really ticks Holden off and he believes that the majority of people he meets is insincere except himself.
After having some sort of minor mental break down after he writes a composition about his dead younger brother’s baseball glove, which was scribbled all over with poetry, for his roommate he leaves the school to wander around New York and to wait for news of his expulsion to reach his parents. The rest of the story follows his stumbling about New York looking for truth and companionship. Growing up and the changes in adolescence also subconsciously concerns Holden who decides that the one thing he would like to do in life is to be the catcher in the rye. It is an idea he got from hearing a child mis-quote singing a Robert Burns poem, ‘Comin’ through the rye’. Holden would like to place himself on a cliff and be ready to catch any children who falls out through the rye and prevent them from plummeting off the cliff which would save the children from having to go through adolescence and confront the difficulty of growing up and losing the innocence of childhood.
Holden Caulfield is a likeable character and very funny but he is consumed by depression that, while he’ll admit to now and then, he fails to acknowledge. It is startling clear that Holden is desperately lonely. Out of life, he wants nothing but to see genuineness and truth from his fellow human citizens. One of the most endearing characteristics of Holden is his constant noticing of the underdogs or the background characters. In plays, movies, books and in life, the secondary characters always catches Holden’s attention and it’s quite moving. Another particularly endearing trait is his love and kindness to his younger siblings – his younger brother, Allie, with the baseball glove who died of leukemia and a sister, Phoebe, to who he eventually goes home to see. As the story unfolds, it is clear that Allie’s death still affects Holden and is unresolved grief. Another incident towards the end of the story also suggests that he may have been molested at some stage during his time at school which would explain Holden’s insistence of continually getting expelled. Holden’s troubled and repressed feelings eventually catches up with him.
I first read this book when I was 16 and I really didn’t like it. Perhaps choosing a book with such a strong, male, anti-hero protagonist was not really the type of material 16 year old girls naturally gravitate towards not to mention that the historical context was quite unfamiliar to me. On re-reading, I have enjoyed it quite a lot and I think growing up has everything to do with it. I empathise with Holden and understand his contempt for the superficiality of fellow humans. I don’t think of him as a rebel, as most criticism has labelled him as, but one who has precociously seen and desire the truth.