Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

I am really not sure what to say about this book. It's kind of amazing that I've never managed to read it before now. None of my high school English classes ever required it, and I had no real desire to read it after that. Now I've read it for my course on Intellectual Freedom and Youth, because it is another one of those classic titles that has been challenged more times than you would believe. It was most recently challenged in 2004, and for the past 50 years it has been challenged based mainly on the language and sexual content. (One of the challenges refers to "sexual exploits" of the main character, which is rather amusing, since he has none.)
I found the character of Holden Caulfield to be rather annoying, and I really got tired of reading about him after awhile. There comes a time when a character's voice in a story simply becomes too much. How many times can you listen to a first-person narrative that is so repetitious? If I wasn't reading this for a class, I honestly would probably have given up on it. I just stopped caring. But at the same time, the story that Holden is telling about himself and his world is very compelling. The picture that he paints is not altogether honest, either about himself or the schools that he talks about, or even all the "phonies" that he obsessively describes. Once I got past his obnoxious repetition of condemning all the phonies that he sees, I really started to pay attention to Holden himself, to his fears about becoming one of those phonies. Or maybe he is afraid that he is one, or has been in the past. Thinking of it in those terms made the story a lot more interesting.
I'm told that if you read The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager, you think that Holden Caulfield is absolutely brilliant. I'm not sure how true that is, but it is an interesting book, and one that is very different depending on what age you read it at. If you read it as a teen, give it another try as an adult, and you may discover something new about the book.


Ashley said...

Ahh yes, Catcher. This is one of my absolute favorites and I'll tell you why. I read this book for the first time when I was a teenager, and like you mentioned, I found Holden brilliant. I even think a part of me wished he was real so that I could be with him somehow (funny, I know). That's how skewed my view was of him back then.

I've read this book again as an adult and while I can see how some people find Holden "annoying," I just marvel at how brilliant Salinger is. He knows exactly what some teenagers go through (I was just like Holden), and the identity crisis they face when they're that age. I was always questioning myself, the people I hung around, and whether or not I would turn into some of these "phonies." I have such a fondess for Holden Cauffield, J.D. Salinger, and this novel as well. It's one of those that has never left my mind.

Jeska said...

I do have to agree that Salinger does a good job of capturing that teenage angst about "Who am I??" I guess that that was what made the book interesting to me, not Holden himself.

Rebecca Reid said...

I also loved loved this as a teenager (high school class). I had to read it again in college and liked it. I feel the need to reread it since I'm now a mother of my own boy. I wonder what I'll think this time around?

I don't recall Holden being annoying. Interesting. I wonder what I'll think now?