Tag Archives: Phoebe

Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger, 1951

Banned by multiple groups, controversial, and different, this is a book that has emerged into our pool of literary classics and is increasingly taught in high schools around the US.  I read it in 11th grade with mixed emotions, first apprehension from how other high-schoolers described it, next confusion but at the same time an empathetic understanding, and finally sadness that came from the truths that were revealed at the end.

{This novel follows the protagonist Holden Caulfield through his oppulent yet empty and confused life in New York City for the period of one week after he is expelled from prep school.  The reader shares his fancies, his fears, his memories and his struggle with the death of his brother Allie, and in that way also learns about his mental illness and alienation.  It is not stated openly, but in this book Holden sees the world through something akin to OCD or depression.  His anchor in life is his little sister Phoebe, a wise and intuitive force.

His most trusted mentor, a past teacher, urges Holden to change his mind and not run away, that it is the stronger man who lives humbly, rather than dies nobly, for a cause.  Holden had the idea of becoming a “catcher in the rye,” a godlike figure who symbolically saves children from “falling off a crazy cliff” and being exposed to all things “phony,” the evils of adulthood, and losing their kindness, spontaneity, innocence, and generosity.}

The hardest part of reading this story is deciding whose side you are on, the side of reason or the side of the antihero, Holden?  Will he be happier in reality after he goes to a mental hospital?

Knowing the historical and literary context of this novel would add to understanding and appreciation.  I would caution anyone who starts to read this book to keep their head about them, and I would specifically caution adults to not base any perceptions of teenagers on the teenager portrayed in this novel.  In June 2009, Finlo Rohrer from the BBC wrote that, 58 years since publication, the book is still regarded “as the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic.”   But I would disagree.  Yes most humans probably go through a period of feeling isolated and directionless, not necessarily as teenagers, but what Holden is feeling and how he is acting is not the norm for all adolescents.  One must also remember that his mental state is shaky, which indubitably colors his experiences.

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