The Book Look: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ captures the struggles of adolescence

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger; Little, Brown and Company

The Magnet Tribune: Publisher

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger; Little, Brown and Company

Lauren Melendez, 'Book Look' Columnist, Staff Writer

The Catcher in the Rye, despite the controversy it incited upon its release, has transcended generations and is widely regarded as one of the best classic novels in America. This is, perhaps, why it is so beguiling.

Written in 1951, this novel was audaciously honest for its time. It was deemed distasteful by some, for its strong language and portrayal of then-inappropriate activities. However, others thought this was a bold move and one that society was very much in need of.

The novel follows teenager Holden Caulfield, who has been kicked out of numerous boarding schools due to his lack of ambition and unwillingness to participate in class. He truly despises the kids he attends school with and believes them to be vain and pretentious. He continually refers to them as “phonies,” and essentially, uses them as a reminder of what not to do. He longs to live an honest life and find fulfillment in his own way, rather than in a manner which society has deemed correct.

He tries to preserve her innocence, a fragile and fleeting concept of childhood.”

— Lauren Melendez

The story begins with Holden having been kicked out of yet another boarding school. He was expected home three days after the start of the novel but left for home early due to his being expelled. He took this unexpected opportunity to roam the streets of New York for a while, simultaneously wreaking havoc and experiencing character development.

Holden Caulfield was a refreshing character. All too often, readers are bombarded with perfect characters, who are seemingly incapable of error. Holden, though flawed, has many redeeming qualities that make the reader love him, not despite his flaws, but because of them. Holden’s dialogue was heavy with cuss words, and though this may seem like nothing to scoff at in 2018, it caused an uproar when the novel was first released. It is books like this that have revolutionized literature, that took the first steps in changing the rigid societal standards for books.

The most prominent motif in this novel is adolescence and the struggles of the transition into adulthood. This is brought to light when Holden interacts with his younger sister Phoebe, whom he constantly worries about. He tries to preserve her innocence, a fragile and fleeting concept of childhood.

When the realization that this change is inevitable strikes Holden, he is truly shaken. There is one point in the novel in which he describes a fantasy of his; one that is symbolic of his innermost thoughts. It is as follows:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

This quote perfectly encapsulates the overarching theme of the novel, using crude, childlike ideals that somehow convey the profundity of the sentiment better than the largest of vocabulary words could. Herein lies the beauty of Holden’s bold, succinct vernacular.

The people he described in a vision are running off the edge of a cliff. This is representative of children taking the plunge into adulthood. Holden’s wanting to “catch them” is symbolic of his desire to prevent children from falling into the trap that is adulthood. However, try as he might, they always seem to lie just out of reach.

Some people love it; some people hate it. In short, The Catcher in the Rye is a novel like no other, one that creates a genre all its own. Holden’s voice cannot help but resonate within the mind of the reader, simultaneously simplistic and poignant. If you’re interested in a novel that will keep you guessing, I urge you to pick up Salinger’s most prized work.