Once is a generation, a book is written that transcends reality and humanity . The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, combines a unique style, controversial theme, and thought provoking main character in this perceptive study of the human condition. This postwar novel protests against the loss of innocence and hypocrisy of the era and is the definitive coming of age novel. Salinger constructs a shocking reality, populated by phonies’ and bursting with falsities- a reality that is all too real. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of a young man’s understanding of the world he lives in, and the things he encounters (Lomazoff 3).
This work is similar to other famous and influential works of the same nature. For example, Maxwell Geismar sums up the novel as “an eminently readable and quotable [novel] in its tragicomic narrative of preadolescent revolt. Compact, taut, and colorful, the first half presents in brief compass all then petty horrors, the banalities, the final mediocrity of the American prep school” (Geismar 195). Holden can not understand the purgatory of Pency prep, and futilely escapes from one dark world into darker world of New York City.
The second half of the novel raises the intriguing questions and incorporates the deeper meaning of the work (Geismar). Holden sits on the cusp of adulthood, tethering dangerously close to his fate and reality and The Catcher in the Rye is the story of his journey into the adult world. In addition, this novel is similar to other famous works of the same nature. Salinger emulates elements of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck Finn, The Catcher in the Rye is the story of a young man’s journey into adulthood. Holden journeys into the human condition, Huck likewise seeks out human nature.
Huck, like Holden, hates hypocrisy, and fells the need to search for integrity. Similarly, both works start out the same way. Their simple exposition of location and scope draws in the mind, and fastens it securely to the page. Holden’s opening speech is merely a modernized and adapted version of Huck’s. Holden Caulfield strikes many readers as an urbanized version of Huck Finn (Lomazoff 3). In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, things Price Hamlet cannot control dominate his thoughts and life. Like Holden, Hamlet suffers from a mild form of psychological disturbance. Both men cannot come to terms with morality and mortality.
Holden is unsure of what happens after death, and confronts his own mortality, much like his Elizabethan counterpart, after an encounter with a vicious pimp: But I’m crazy. I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, I sort of started pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old Maurice had plugged me. Now I was on the to the bathroom to get a good shot of bourbon or something to steady my nerves and help me really go into action. I pictured myself coming out of the goddamn bathroom, dressed and all, with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering around a little bit.
Then I’d walk down stairs, instead of using the elevator. I’d hold on to the banister and all, with this blood trickling out of the side of my mouth a little at a time. What I’d do, I’d walk down a few floors- holding on to my guts, blood leaking all over the place- and then I’d ring the elevator bell. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors, he’d see me with this automatic in my hand and he’d start screaming at me, In this very high-pitched, yellow-belly voice, to leave him alone. But I’d plug him anyway. Six shoots right throw his fat hairy belly.
Then I’d throw my automatic down the elevator shaft- after I’d wipe off all the fingerprints and all. Then I’d crawl back to my room and call up Jane and have her come over and bandage up my guts. These books by dissimilar authors and form different centuries are very different, but their insights into the quirks are humanity and coming of age are universal. The central theme of The Catcher in the Rye emanates from the confrontation and ultimate loss of innocence that occurs hand in hand with the assimilation into society and the loneliness that arises thereafter.
For example, Eric Lomazoff would argue that “In essence, Holden Caulfield is a good person stuck in a bad world. He is trying to make the best of his life, though ultimately losing that battle. Whereas he aims at stability and truth, the adult world cannot survive without suspense and lies” (4). Although he shoots idealistically at truth and sincerity, the adult world could not survive without the darkest side of growing up. Moreover, Holden like many teens feels like an outsider, lonely even in his peer group, “they both laughed like hyenas at stuff that wasn’t even funny.
I didn’t even enjoy sitting next to them at movies” (Salinger 37). Holden is aware of the insincerity of his friend’s laughter, and cannot join in with them. He silently protests against the evils of the adult world, and like many teens, feels all alone. Holden feels a strong connection to the elusive Jane Gallagher, and after a date with his roommate, Holden contemplates his feelings ” I sat there for about an hour after he left, I mean just sitting in a chair, not doing anything. I just kept thinking about Jane, and about Stradlater having a date with her and all.
It made me so nervous I nearly went crazy. I already told you what a sexy bastard Stradlater was” (Salinger 34). The sexual coming of age of Holden’s former girlfriend represent the slaughter of the innocent, and serves to illustrate that with age comes the burden of society. Holden solitarily contemplates the past, the social brainwashing of true innocents disturbs him, feeling totally repulsed. With this in mind, Holden feels compelled to save those not yet old enough to save themselves, specifically children: “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 . . . I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. . . (173). Lomazoff argues that “It is a testament to his innocence and decent spirit that Holden would place the safety and well being of children as the goal of his lifetime”(3).
Metaphorically speaking, Holden is catching children from falling of the cliff of childhood into the ominous gorge that is being an adult. Holden’s loneliness and inner turmoil relating to his maturing creates an admirably honesty and mature of character. Loneliness motivates the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, to break off communication of with society. For example, Charles Kegel argues that Holden Caulfield: “is in search of the word. His problem is one of communication: as a teenager, he simply cannot get through to the adult world which surrounds him; as a sensitive teenager, he cannot get through others of his own age” (54).
Adult communication intimidates and alienates the protagonist. Moreover, Holden expresses his problem with communication indirectly and in a striking and decisive moment, he relays his desire to become a deaf mute: I figured that I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people’s cars. I did not care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people did not know me and I did not know anybody. I thought what I would do was, I would pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid useless conversation with anybody.
If anybody wanted to tell me something, they’d have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They’d get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I’d be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone . . . I’d cook all my own food, and later on, if I wanted to get married or something, I’d meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we’d get married. She’d come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she’d have to write it on a piece of paper, like everybody else (Salinger 198).
The adult world repulses Holden and in response, he feels the need to withdraw to a life in solitude being a secret, deaf mute. Holden suffers psychologically. In addition, the desire for no communication is also apparent in his missed telephone calls. “On fifteen separate occasions, Holden gets the urge to communicate by phone, yet only four phone calls are ever completed, and even those are with unfortunate results” (Kegel 55). He consciously manifests people and events into larger than life vapors that he cannot let fade into his past.
Like many teens, his past compels him to grip onto his memories. All teens try to keep grips on the past, if only to keep firm holds on their sanity. When Holden continually wants to give old Jane Gallagher a buzz’, but is unable to turn his thoughts into actions. His desire to call her is expressed countless times; yet he never does call her. Finally, Holden’s loneliness and transition into adulthood climaxes as he watches his sister ride the carousel. As he sits alone, his illusion of protecting the innocence of children is symbolically shattered.
Critics regard this episode as Holden’s transition into adulthood, for although the future is uncertain, his severed ties with the dead past have enabled him to accept maturity (Lomazoff). His sisters battle with innocence began when his ended. Holden feels so strongly for his cause, so lonely in his heart, but cannot express his feelings to others. Salinger accurately captures the informal speech of an average intelligent, educated, northeastern American adolescent by combining diction, and sentence structure in his work (Costello, 14).
Such speech includes both simple descriptions and cursing. For example, Holden says, “They are nice and all”, as well as “I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything”. In the first instance, he uses the term “nice” which oversimplifies his parents’ character, implying he does not wish to disrespect them, yet at the same time he does not praise them. At best he deems them as “nice and all. ” Holden further cuts short his description, but in a more curt manner, when he states he will not tell his “whole goddam autobiography or anything”.
From the start the reader picks up Holden’s hostility and unwillingness to share his views strictly by his use of language (Salzman, 6). With this in mind, consider the structure of Holden’s Speech and his use of phrases. “Like Madmen”, “Old”, “It killed me”, It really is, and “Like a bastard” are all placed in critical sentences to emphasize meaning (Salinger). Holden uses these phrases to such an overpowering degree that they create a clear picture of Salinger’s style, and become a part of Holden himself (Costello). Also, consider Holden’s use of the word “phony”.
The phoniness and corruption of society repulse Holden, and Salinger uses the word phony over 40 times to spotlight the worst of human nature. Phony Is informal and simple, but the deeper meaning are ominous and overwhelming. Salinger’s words serve as a record of the teenage vernacular during the postwar era, and his use of language adds immensely to the overall feel and themes. Many book reviews on The Catcher in the Rye deal with the controversial issues raised in the novel. For example, many readers find themselves shocked by Holden’s words and actions (Smith, 1).
Nask Burger argues that, ” Holden’s efforts to escape from himself by liquor, sex, night clubs, movies, sociability- anything and everything- are fruitless” (Burger, 1). The dark world Holden finds himself in scares the moral and conservative parents that read the novel. People have protested against the books rebellious nature, profanity, homosexuality, sexuality, and going as far to saying it was a communist plot to corrupt America’s youth. In every case, however, the universal meaning of the novel has won over even the most stubborn censors.
Critics love this novel, and praise the author. Burger admires the theme, style, diction, and the issues raised in his review for The New York Times (Burger). Smith praises the adolescent nature, magic of the novel, and psychoanalysis of teens in the Saturday Review of Literature (Smith). Both men understand the motivation of Salinger, and respectfully praise his coming-of age masterpiece. This unusually brilliant novel withstood the critics before angry censors. The Catcher in the Rye is universally appealing as a coming of age novel.
Holden Caulfield is the ultimate protagonist, and stands for everything that is good within the human spirit. The Catcher in the Rye raises questions that are of epic proportions, and masterfully allows the scholar to interpret an individual answer. Perhaps Holden is too raunchy, perverse, or mentally unstable to be a hero; yet his human side and flaws are what seem to be his most idiosyncratic and admirable traits. Holden Caulfield, this modern Huckleberry Finn, reminds everyone of how bad growing up feels but never makes us feel sorry for it.