Review: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

I can’t think of a book that divides people more than ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger. Almost everything about this book is both praised and controversial over the decades since it was published. I’m not going to go that much into the controversy of this book, especially about the bit involving John Lennon’s murder, but I will talk about the split arguments with this. This is a book that readers either love or hate. Some people call the main character a classic icon of teenage rebellion, while others despise him and his personality all together. Some call this novel a perfect look into the teenage mind while others see it as a trashy, preachy waste of paper. Some even call ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ a masterpiece of American literature, and by God, others don’t even want to mention this book exists.

So what did I think of it? Well…

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is set in the middle of the 20th century, just after the Second World War. We follow a young sixteen year-old boy named Holden Caulfield, who isn’t upset that he’s been kicked out of Pencey Prep academy. He decides to skip staying until Christmas for his wealthy parents to find out, and runs to the nearby New York City. We follow him walking and sleeping around the city…and that’s about it. Yeah the book is basically about Holden being cynical toward everyone he meets.

Probably the biggest problem with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is that there’s basically little to no plot in this. We follow a teenager with a cynical attitude, he roams New York, tries to find a person to hear about his ‘problems’, and it takes 250 pages for me to want to die of boredom. I wouldn’t mind so much if Holden were made more interesting and were put in more interesting environments. Yeah he does risqué things like paying a prostitute to have a conversation with, and even walking through Manhattan when it is pitch black out, but we never see his personality being affected by it. He walks down a street, calls a random person a ‘phony’ (one of many memorable terms he uses), and monologues about how shitty his life and the world is while reminiscing about his brothers and sister. Good god, I was waiting for something different to happen.

Fans of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ say that this book is the epitome of teenage rebellion and is ahead of its time. However, some readers don’t fully understand what teenage rebellion is. Some see it as a teenager being a douchebag to everyone, but there’s more to it than that. Teenage rebellion is a phase that helps a young man or young woman grow as a person, and helps them create their own identity through breaking the mold they grew up in.

It has been presented well in other novels published recently. Margo from ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green breaks the rules because she’s lived in a suburb house that’s strictly about keeping a façade. Alek from ‘One Man Guy’ by Michael Barakiva breaks the rules because he wants to know who he is outside of being a perfect son in a traditional Armenian family. And in the end, they know their identity.

With Holden Caulfield, he doesn’t even change as a character.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the iconic symbol of teenage rebellion shall we? To be fair, Holden does have a personality that can be likeable to some people. He’s extremely cynical to phonies, but is kind to the people he cares about. He’s smart, but doesn’t apply himself. He loves his little sister, and even makes promises he tends to keep. However, so many reviewers and readers also say that Holden is very whiny, and…yeah I have to agree that he is very annoying to listen to whenever he monologues about all the phonies and everyone he hates.

So what is it that catches people’s eyes with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’? To the novel’s credit, it has a fantastic grip on imagery. Whenever Holden isn’t being cynical, he describes New York City in a way that almost feels like a beautiful music video. I like the scene where he’s in Central Park, and you can feel the atmosphere dripping around him. Even a few characters in this seem like they have interesting pasts, but we don’t see them very long.

So what’s the verdict on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger? I don’t regret reading it at all, and loved the style that the author gave this unique character, but teenage rebellion isn’t all about complaining for an entire novel-length book. If Holden Caulfield were put in a better story with an actual plot, it would’ve worked. For me it didn’t work, but I like to think of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a Rorschach test for classic literature. While I see this novel as a misunderstood look at teenage rebellion, others may see it as a masterpiece, and I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they don’t kill anyone in the name of J.D. Salinger’s most well-known novel.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

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