“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..”
Thus begins J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger’s classic. The Catcher in the Rye remains controversial even today, I can’t imagine the uproar it surely caused in 1951. The novel centers around 16 year-old Holden Caufield, narcissistic to the core, which makes him a very unlikable guy. Yet, from the opening sentence, I felt drawn in to his unique, wholly Holden view. Like a bad train wreck, I couldn’t look away. Or in this case, I couldn’t stop reading. Coupled with his constant criticisms and overtly excessive profanity, I couldn’t help but earnestly question his sanity.
Fairly early on, I got the sense that something had to give, or else he’d likely snap and do something he’d later regret. Take, for instance, the questionable chain of events between Stradlater and Holden’s beloved childhood friend, Jane Gallagher. When he returned from their impromptu “date,” Stradlater’s shady behavior inevitably led me to suspect that something terrible had gone awry… As a result, I thought that Holden would find out what had transpired, and that he’d threaten his life, at the very least. And I might have dismissed my suspicions, if not for the fact that throughout the novel, Holden often reminds himself to touch bases with Jane, only that never happens. There’s always a convenient excuse at hand, which Holden seems all too willing to oblige.
There are many moments of irony throughout…
But Salinger’s story isn’t really about what may or may not have happened between his so-called “friend” and Jane Gallagher. The beautiful relationship between Holden and his kid sister, Phoebe, is much more relevant. I love the special bond they share, it’s one that’s been carefully nurtured over many years.It’s a nice change to know that he actually cares about someone other than himself. At the same time, it develops his character even further and we get a sense of Phoebe.
Phoebe is the only person he’s ever allowed himself to love.. it’s sad, but incredibly touching at the same time..
Salinger also gives us profound insight into Holden’s older brother, which adds additional depth to his character. It speaks volumes about why he is the way he is, IMO.
Prior to about the halfway point, I still felt very little for our protagonist, but with the incorporation of various insights and/or developments, something totally unexpected happened: I actually started to feel something about him, on a very personal level. More than that, at was as if Holden and I had formed a connection. He feels akin to me, and I’d like to think the feeling’s mutual, for I have also dealt with depression for most of my life. The thought of harming myself in one way or another has played a major role throughout my adult life. I’m deeply ashamed to admit that so publicly, but I won’t deny it..
Courtesy of Robert Burns‘ 1782 poem,”Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”
Comin thro’ the rye, poor body,
Comin thro’ the rye,
She draigl’t a’ her petticoatie,
Comin thro’ the rye!
Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing’s a body’s ain.[G]
Ilka lassie has her laddie,
Nane, they say, ha’e I
Yet all the lads they smile on me,
When comin’ thro’ the rye.
In closing, I envision Holden as a mature and stable adult (now an aging 76 years of age,) being in charge of those children we’ve neglected, or left behind. I believe he excelled at it, too. Perhaps he was even given praise, every now and again. Even if that isn’t the case, the joy and pride he feels upon a job well done is praise enough.