J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, for me, is a story about human behaviour and profound introspection. Holden Caulfield is a tragically flawed protagonist, a character so utterly sardonic: the ultimate anti-hero. After his expulsion from Pencey Prep, Holden wanders round New York City in solitude; the irony of New York being synonymous to a bustling city of dreams accentuates its poignant tone. Holden seems to polarise society’s conventions, unable to conform or belong, and subsequently cannot truly live because of it. His complex, and often restricted view of the world, has trapped him in a box of cynicism and self-loathing.
After completing the novel, my connection to it lingered long after. Its ambiguity was something that both frustrated and comforted me. I think that to really understand this book, you had to have been Holden at one point in your life, because otherwise he is nothing but an archetypal whiny teenager. His complexity and confusion is so human, that it scares me. I felt despondent reading it, often finding myself having to pause and reflect on my own past. Contradicting the plethora of reviews stating that Holden is ‘depressing to read’ and ‘irritating’, to me, the protagonist is not a bad person. And it would be naïve of me to simply place the blame on environment or upbringing, which unfortunately intensifies the tragedy of it all tenfold, as it comes to light that Holden’s pain is perhaps self-inflicted.
We are provided with only a vague idea of Holden’s past, with one of the most memorable, and largely upsetting event, being his brother Allie’s death. It seems to me that he hasn’t had a fantastic upbringing, but not a rough and unjust one either. He has simply given up. Does he want to die, as he so often mentions throughout? No, he doesn’t. But I think that he feels that if he went to sleep and didn’t wake up the next day, or perhaps unexpectedly got hit by a car, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Reading about his transition from childhood to adulthood was particularly interesting. Salinger doesn’t ever sugar-coat this, thus creating a raw and refreshing read which I can very much appreciate. There is a beautiful part towards the end of the novel, in which Holden is watching his younger sister Phoebe riding the carousel. It keeps turning, never stopping, on a continual loop. Change is evidently a terrifying prospect for Holden, as we watch him desperately wishing to clutch onto his youth.
I can’t articulate how glad I am that I read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, but more specifically, that I read it now. I have been Holden these past few months. God, I hate admitting that. I’ll save you the upsetting details (perhaps more disquieting for me than for you), but I will say that reading this novel has taught me that my emotions, though undoubtedly rough and hurtful, are very much human.
We, unfortunately, can’t be the catchers in the field of rye. We can’t save everyone, we can’t protect our youth and innocence. The world is a discomforting place, and Holden deals with that through his loathsome and erratic nature. But my God, I get it, which is why I’m so thankful for this novel, as it has ultimately provided me with a sense of comfort and control.
There’s so much more I could discuss but I think I’ll leave it at that. I would love to hear your thoughts on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. How did it make you feel? Did you relate to Holden in the same way I did?
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