Friday, May 15, 2009

50. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

March 2007
History: Published in 1951. In 1960, a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, for assigning the novel in class. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. The book is written as if Holden were speaking out loud, like a transcription of him telling the story to another person.
Plot: The first-person narrative follows Holden's experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a fictional college preparatory school in Pennsylvania.
Holden shares encounters he has had with students and faculty of Pencey, whom he criticizes as being superficial, or as he would say, "phony." After being expelled from the school, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after an altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York, but does not want to return to his family's apartment immediately, and instead checks into the derelict Edmont Hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute; he refuses to do anything with her and tells her to leave, although he pays her for her time. She demands more money than was originally agreed upon and when Holden refuses to pay he is struck by her pimp.
Holden spends a total of two days in the city, characterized largely by drunkenness and loneliness. At one point he ends up at a museum, where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos on display. For as long as he can remember, the statues have been fixed and unchanging. It is clear to the reader, if not to Holden, that the teenager is afraid and nervous about the process of change and growing up. These concerns may largely have stemmed from the death of his brother, Allie. Eventually, he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are away, to visit his younger sister Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate. Holden shares a fantasy he has been thinking about he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a "catcher in the rye".
After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden then drops by to see his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. During the speech on life, Mr. Antolini has a number of "highballs," an alcoholic drink popular at the time. His comfort is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way that he perceives as "perverty." There is much speculation on whether or not Mr. Antolini was making a sexual advance on Holden, and it is left widely up to the reader whether or not this is true. Holden leaves and spends his last afternoon wandering the city. He later wonders if his interpretation of Mr. Antolini's actions was correct.
Holden intends to move out west, and relays these plans to his sister, who decides she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her, and when she becomes upset with him, he tells her that he himself will no longer go. Holden then takes Phoebe to the Central Park Zoo, where he watches with a melancholy joy as she rides a carousel. At the close of the book, Holden decides not to mention much about the present day, finding it inconsequential. He alludes to "getting sick" and living in a mental hospital, and mentions that he'll be attending another school in September. Holden says that he has found himself missing Stradlater, Ackley, and the others--warning the reader that the same thing could happen to them.
Review: The storyline is remarkably intriguing and is exceptionally simple. The reason for this book's success, in my opinion, is the way the story is told. Since the story happens to be so common (adolescent escapades) Salinger had to make the book standout in his own way. His formula for success in this case was speaking in a truly original dialect. The slang that Holden speaks, is still edgy to this very day. Salinger is a master of dialect, and it really shines in The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger's characters are also among the main ingredients in his recipe for success. Each character with it's own trademark. He really captures the different personalities in the world. The characters are written about in such a way that keeps you entertained, and interested. The emotions portrayed by the characters make such a strong impact. When someone is annoyed you can empathize, when someone is angry, you feel bad for them.
Opening Line: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Closing Line: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Quotes: “I don't know about bores. Maybe you shouldn't feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them., most They don't hurt anybody of them, and maybe they're secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.”
“In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.”
Rating: Okay

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