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On the edge of a cliff: "The Catcher in the Rye"

June 13, 2018

Photo courtesy of Amazon

 

BOOK REVIEW- Imagine you are on the edge of a cliff, always on the brink of falling over. Every time you catch your balance, there is something waiting to make you stumble again. For one person, this feeling might come in a moment of helplessness or anxiety. For recalcitrant Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger, however, this feeling is his reality.

 

Though a teacher of his urges him, saying, “life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules,” Holden repeatedly defies the rules of life (Salinger 11).

 

After being kicked out of yet another prep school in Pennsylvania, Holden decides to run away to New York City for three days to evade the wrath of his parents for as long as possible. In those three days, Holden is thrust into egregious sequences of self-discovery and reflects on the worst parts of himself, longing for someone - anyone - to talk to. In the hopes of some human interaction, he hires a prostitute, calls upon old friends and conjures up conversations with his dead brother, Allie. Most importantly, Holden dreams about being a Catcher in the Rye. He explains that if there were thousands of children playing in a field of rye next to a cliff, he would be there to catch them before they fell off the edge.

 

Only, there’s no one to catch Holden before he falls.

 

And “this fall ... it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit the bottom. He just keeps falling and falling,” (Salinger 207).

 

That is, after all, what happens during the loss of innocence; the pain of growing up. It is not noticed until it is done.

When reading "The Catcher in the Rye," one might forget its original audience was intended for adults and not the young readers the classic novel attracts today. Salinger writes with a naive tone, conveying Holden’s feelings of misplacement through the text’s diction. He writes Holden the way a teenage boy might speak and think; crassly, ignorantly and arrogantly.

 

Holden’s character is incredibly ironic. He is so infatuated with saving the innocence of children like his little sister, Phoebe, while he remains the only irretrievable character throughout the novel. The only one who needs saving is Holden, a problem so earnest it continues a year after his jaunt in New York to the mental hospital in which he reflects on those days.

 

The captivating book is often shrugged off, as many feel it is too fantastic or the problems addressed too inconsequential; Holden’s consistent complaints make him a difficult character to agree with, let alone enjoy. The novel, however, now over 50 years old, persisted through American literature’s history, despite critics’ opinions, for one solid reason:

 

Readers will never feel alone with "The Catcher in the Rye."

 

Throughout the course of the novel, there is seldom a problem Holden Caulfield faces that readers cannot connect with in some way. The fact that he is angry at the world for making him feel so alone, for making children lose their innocence earlier or for just feeling lost is something everyone can empathize with.

 

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