Jerome David Salinger Catcher in the Rye
Something about the author and his life:
Jerome David Salinger was born in New York in 1919. He was educated at Valley Forge Military Academy and at New York and Columbia universities. In Columbia he took a course in short-story writing. He published short stories in the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines during the 1940’s and served in the U.S. infantry during World War II. The highly successful “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) has been his only novel and the success of it really surprised him. Now he lives alone in a very simple house in New Hampshire. He refuses any interviews and publicity. The Book was published by:
The Penguin Group (Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London w8 5tz, England)
Date of publication: 1994
Number of pages: 192 (paperback)
Genre-Novel: (diary, novel of social protest, manners, psychological story, stream of consciousness)
It is a story of an emotionally disturbed young man, who confused and disillusioned searches for the truth and criticizes the hypocratical world of adults. A 16-year-old Holden Caulfield tells us everything that happened during 2-3 days after he had been expelled from the school. Social setting:
The main character is from a rich family and he’s spent most of his life in boys’ schools. Now he is alone in a big city and meets the real world of 1940’s.
The story starts at Pencey Prep School in Agerstown. Holden is expelled from the school and leaves for New York City where he spends the rest of the time until he returns home. Historical setting:
The events of this novel took place just couple of days before Christmas, 1949. (The year isn’t mentioned exactly so it might also be year 1948 or 1950. Surely it was the late 1940’s)
It is Holdens last evening at Pencey Prep. He goes to visit his history teacher to say good-bye, because he has been expelled from the school.
In my opinion it is the part where Holden decides to leave and go west. He leaves Phoebe a note saying she has to meet him in the park. When she comes, she drags a suitcase with her. She wants to ho with him. The argument they have causes Holden to let go off the idea and they make up. Holden goes home with his sister. Title:
The background of the title is explained when Holden is talking to Phoebe in the middle of the night.
She asks what he wants to be when he grows up, because she is angry with him since he doesn’t have any ambitions. He replies: “I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all…. 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 have to come out form somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I know it’s crazy, …”
Holden sees the world as very narrow and he can’t stand watching innocent children “falling over the cliff”. It is a metaphor for many problems that young people of those days had to face. Theme:
In that period of time America’s society was based on being right and proper. The children always did whatever their parents wanted them to do. It was a battle between two generations. That’s why young people often lost their illusions about the world and criticized it. Subject-manner:
The main problem is whether young people should chose their own future according to their wishes and experience all the obstacles that would be brought by this decision, or just blindly follow the rules given by the older generation. Main characters:
Holden Caulfield – 16-year-old boy, who has never been really interested in school. Actually he has almost always flunked all his subjects and now he has been kicked out of the school for the third time. He has no ambitions to life. He complains about the world and people around him a lot. He feels nobody (except maybe his little sister Phoebe) understands him and that he doesn’t understand others.
He pretends to be someone else. He acts as if he were “a tough guy”, but in reality he is very sensitive. You can tell just by the things he is talking about. He concerns himself with such details that might be insignificant to others. On the other hand, he finds things that are serious for other people funny, because he sees the irony of it. He seems quite intelligent (even though his vocabulary is limited), but sometimes he acts as if he were younger. He asks needless questions and gives childish arguments. (For example when he asks the taxi driver where the ducks go when the lake freezes over)
He is rebellious but he still obeys some rules of good behavior. He swears a lot; however. Phoebe Caulfield – Holdens younger sister. She is only 10 years old but very mature. She is the only one who understands Holden and wants him to start think about his future life more. She is very cute and only in her company Holden doesn’t feel he has to hide behind the mask of “though guy”.
When he is with Phoebe he is himself. Minor characters:
Ward Strandlater – Holdens roommate at Pencey. He is older and bigger then Holden. He is obsessed with himself. He is also very opinionated. You have to agree with him all the time. He likes to date girls but he seems to only look forward to use them for sex. Robert Ackley – He lives next-door to Holden at Pencey. He is very messy and looks messy. He is quite strange because he seems to enjoy annoying people by his disgusting behavior. Jane Gallagher - She’s been Holdens friend since couple of years ago. She is really nice and Holden keeps thinking of her.
Mr. Antolini - The best teacher Holden’s ever had. “He was funny. His students could joke with him without losing the respect for him.” He is really helpful towards the students. The story is told in “I-narration”
I think very important is the symbol of “The Catcher in the Rye” itself. This is what would Holden like to become. It is quite unreasonable, but he should be the one to find that out. I think that he realizes it, but you can’t just follow your parents’ wishes and become whatever they want you to become. You’ve got to choose for yourself. Holden represents the young generation of that time – insecure, with no ambitions and anything to look forward to in the future. He doesn’t want to become a lawyer like his father and help people for money. He wants to become the catcher in the rye, and doesn’t care what other people think of it. Language:
Language used in this novel is worth mentioning. It is written in American English.
A teenager narrates the entire book so the usage of slang is quite understandable.
Many of the slang expressions in it are probably nowadays considered to be old-fashioned and not used anymore.
“So I got the ax (from the school)” to get ax = to get expelled
“So I shot a bull for a while.” to shot a bull = either to lie and exaggerate or to chat amiably
“Boy, was he sore.” sore = angry, irritated
“What really knocks me out is…” to knock someone out = to delight or impress someone extremely
“So I went down to the can and chewed the rag with him”
can = toilet
to chew a rag = to converse
“I’ll be up the creek if I don’t get the goddam thing in by Monday.”
up the creek = in trouble
“Some of the ones he said were flits were even married, for God’s sake.”
flit =male homosexual
“I mean he didn’t hit the ceiling or anything.”
to hit the ceiling = to become violently angry
It is Saturday evening and there is a football game at Pencey Prep School. Everybody is there except Holden. He’s found out he’s been expelled from school again so he goes and says good-bye to his history teacher. He is supposed to stay at school until Tuesday when the Christmas holiday starts. But after he gets back to his room and finds out that Strandlater has left for date with Holden’s old friend Jane, he decides to leave the school tonight and spent couple of days in the city (N.Y.C.). He is fed up with the school life and people that surround him. He gets into fight with Strandlater and afterwards he packs his suitcase and leaves the school disappointed. He takes a taxi to the station and gets on the train to the city. Here he meets a woman, who turns out to be a mother of one student from Pencey, which Holden happens to know. He makes up some stories about the woman’s son just to impress her. Afterwards he regrets it. When he gets to New York he goes to a hotel to spend the night there. He realizes he doesn’t want to sleep yet so he decides to head for down town to the club. Here he meets some young ladies, who according to his opinion “are not quite as good looking”. However; he invites one of them to join him for a drink. But as soon as she starts talking he dislikes her and decides to leave the club. Although he is under age he goes to another club where he asks for some (alcohol) drink. He meets one of his brother’s ex-girlfriends, but doesn’t feel like talking to her since his brother lives in Hollywood now and Holden doesn’t want to explain her everything. He takes a taxi to go back to the hotel. The elevator man offers him a prostitute for 5 dollars. He accepts the offer and goes to his room to get ready for the “lady”. When she comes he is very nervous. He reveals he is still a virgin although all the time until that moment he has been talking about the girls as if he’d had some experiences with them. He doesn’t really want to have sex with the prostitute. He just needs someone to talk to. But the girl doesn’t understand him, so she leaves after taking the money. The next morning, when he wakes up, he is really depressed and thinks about committing a suicide. After a while of thinking he calls his ex-girlfriend and makes a date with her. He still has a lot of time to spend until the date, so he decides to spend it by just wandering in the streets. He takes his suitcase and puts it to “one of those boxes” on the station. He decides to have breakfast at the station.
Here he meets two nuns and has a really nice conversation with them. Afterwards he goes to buy a ticket for the play he is to see with Sally. Then he buys a record for his little sister.
On the date with Sally, after the play, when they are sitting in a restaurant and eating, he suddenly feels he’d like to spend the rest of his life with her. He doesn’t even like her that much, he just feels like it at the moment, so he asks her to leave the city with him and go west. Once again he isn’t understood. Sally gets upset and leaves him sitting there alone. Late Holden calls his friend and meets him in a bar. His friend is in a hurry so after a while of talking Holden finds himself once again alone. He gets depressed and drunk. Later, when he feels sober enough, he wants to see his little sister without the parents knowing about it. He sneaks in the house and wakes Phoebe up. Parents aren’t at home, so they can talk freely. She is very pleased to see him, but knows that he’s supposed to be at the school. She realizes he’s been kicked out again, gets very upset and starts to cry. Holden is trying to explain her everything and she seems to understand. She is the only one who understands him.
When the parents return, he hides himself in the closet until everything quiets down and than calls his former teacher Mr.Antolini. Mr.Antolini wants to see Holden. So Holden leaves Phoebe and goes to visit the teacher. They talk a lot about life and future and Mr.Antolini assures Holden that he can stay for the night. Holden falls asleep and is woken up by his teacher. Mr.Antolini is sitting next to him petting his hair. Holden jumps up and confused leaves the house. He spends the rest of the night at Central Station.
Next day he makes a decision. He wants to leave the city and go west – hitch hiking. He leaves a note for Phoebe to meet him in the park. He wants to say good-bye. She wants to leave with him and it is impossible for Holden to convince her not to do so. He knows he can’t’ go anywhere like this. They have an argument. When Phoebe refuses to answer, he simply walks away realizing she will follow him. They both walk on different sides of the street. They go to the Zoo, where they start to talk to each other again. Phoebe isn’t angry anymore. She goes to a marry-go-round and while she is riding it Holden realizes he won’t go anywhere. When Phoebe comes back he promises her to go home, maybe to visit a psychologist and return to school later.
In the very end Holden, the narrator, reveals that he is actually all the time of retelling the events of those couple days in some kind of psychiatric institution, talking to a doctor (possibly). We can’t be sure about the ending. You simply have to interpret it by yourself. Review (my opinion):
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is written in everyday English with some usage of slang, which makes it quite easy to read. Right from the beginning I forgot it was written by J.D.Salinger, because I felt as if it were all written by Holden himself. The author gives you a clear idea of what is going on in Holdens mind.
My favourite character was Phoebe, though. She seems to be really cute, but serious at the same time. I liked the part where she’s walking on the other side of the street to show she disagrees with Holden. That gives her character.