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Catcher in the Rye

Someone explain it to me...

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1Enraptured
Edited: Dec 13, 2007, 8:22am Top

I tried to read The Catcher in the Rye (can't get the touchstone to work), but gave up about halfway through. I had high hopes for this book; I'd seen it touted as one that people who feel like outsiders could easily relate to. I have a lot of experience being an outsider, so I figured I was one of the people who would love this book. But I couldn't relate to it at all; I couldn't find anything appealing about the main character. And nothing happening in the book was interesting enough to compel me to keep reading.

So, what is it about this book? What makes people relate to Holden Caulfield? And is there any reason I should try it again?

2philosojerk
Dec 13, 2007, 9:04am Top

I've read it cover to cover, and I don't get it either. So I'd like to hear these reasons...

3littlebookworm
Dec 13, 2007, 9:43am Top

Well, I first read the book when I was a teenager and Holden perfectly mirrored my emotions. He's confused about the world, he's frustrated by people and alternatively still trusts them more than an adult would, he's honest while he wants to be dishonest, he loves his siblings, but he just doesn't know where he's going. People complain that he's too whiny but his whining spoke to me in a way that I don't think it speaks to people above the age of 16 or 17. He has a lot of angst, but so did I. I actually read it again at 20 and connected with Holden even more because my brother had passed away less than a year ago and suddenly I could understand why Holden struggled so much and why he felt that the world was so unfair to him and that people didn't understand. I suspect without my life experiences and without reading it at the right age, I wouldn't have understood, but perhaps if you try to look at it from the perspective of a very damaged boy, instead of a whiny one.

4citygirl
Dec 13, 2007, 11:32am Top

I haven't read it in years, but as a teenager I read it more than once. I think I would enjoy it if I did reread it now.

From the many comments about this book in LT threads I wonder if it's a book that's best read for the first time as a kid.

Also, I really enjoyed the descriptions of NYC in that time period. It takes you to a different place and time. And don't forget that it was kind of groundbreaking when it was published. After years of reading books derived from Catcher, it won't seem original.

5wisewoman
Dec 13, 2007, 8:16pm Top

I hated this book. I couldn't identify with Holden in the least, and I *did* read it as a teenager. My strongest memory is the hopelessness of trying to get through to someone so scattery. I'd probably kill him if I knew him in real life. Ack.

6kperfetto
Dec 13, 2007, 9:06pm Top

I adored Holden when I first read Catcher in the Rye. (I was fifteen.) When I re-read it ten years later it had lost of a lot of its luster. It is the perfect "teenage angst" book, in that respect.

I felt the same way about the Bell Jar, too.

7Kira
Dec 13, 2007, 10:16pm Top

I think I said this once before on another thread, but I also read it recently as a teen and didn't get it either. It just seemed... pointless. I do like a well-written book, but I think it needed something more in the way of a plot to make it enjoyable.

8chatmaw
Dec 14, 2007, 5:27pm Top

I’m slightly surprised there haven’t been more people defending Catcher in the Rye.

Like all good books, Catcher engages with the society around it. This is a book that appeared in the 1951, in the aftermath of World War II, with the Cold War under way and, not unrelated to this, in a society in which conformity was highly valued. Most of white America enjoyed a standard of living unparalleled in human history and to work hard and consume was to perform a patriotic duty. Holden, in his own way, questions this.

In this sense, Holden is an outsider. But I think at the heart of the book is a sense of loss and a desire to belong. This is perhaps what has made the book so popular: Holden is ironic and funny but also very vulnerable. He is living in the world that is unfolding after the horrors of World War II and in the shadow of the bomb. If he has little faith in the world at large it is because the world is indifferent to him; the death of his talented, charismatic brother another example of how senseless and fragile life often is.

I'm sorry people here didn't enjoy it more because I still think it is a wonderful book. Maybe one more go...

9fannyprice
Dec 28, 2007, 4:36pm Top

I just remember thinking that Holden was really funny, in a dark kind of way. I am planning to re-read it this year, to see how my impressions of it have changed, because right now it is listed as one of my favorite books.

10xeniamom58
Dec 30, 2007, 11:25am Top

I tried and almost finished but he was getting on my nerves so bad I had to quit. I felt like he was just babbling and rambling all the time.

11TeacherDad
Dec 30, 2007, 12:04pm Top

I think part of Holden's charm/pull on people is not just the angst and confusion, but he is a little unbalanced, isn't he? We can relate to his helplessness and anger, but he is one step beyond, and in viewing our circumstances or emotions reflected against his, we come out a little better, a little more able to cope...

but it has been a few years since I last read it, so I'm sure I could use a re-read...

12yarb
Jan 2, 2008, 12:03pm Top

I read it for the first time a few months ago, as I turned 30. While I can see why Catcher in the Rye finds its most receptive reading with adolescents, I think Holden's dissatisfactions with society are rooted in more than just teen angst; as adults we learn to live with everyday hypocrisy, transience, and banality, but that doesn't mean we lose our distate for them.

I found Holden a very likeable character. As someone else says, he wants to belong, and he wants (and tries) to engage with people honestly. Certainly I'd find anyone a little odd who didn't find him articulating to a greater or lesser extent their teenage self. And I don't think his voice is scattery, babbling or rambling; certainly not more so than the voices around the water cooler.

As for rereading it, it's a pretty short book which you could do in a few hours one Sunday afternoon / evening. I'd say it's worth that amount of time to at least get to the end and view it as a whole. We're not talking Middlemarch here. So, why not?

13SanctiSpiritus
Jan 27, 2008, 5:43pm Top

I have this book on my "to be read" list.

14bfertig
Jan 28, 2008, 8:07pm Top

There was a great (I thought) analysis of Holden and The Catcher in the Rye by Will Smith's character in the movie Six Degrees of Separation... And I think the book played a role in Conspiracy Theory with Julia Roberts as well.

15TeacherDad
Jan 28, 2008, 8:48pm Top

I believe there was also a Far Side cartoon with 2 guys pushing bodies through the rye...

16Scratch
Mar 6, 2008, 9:04am Top

I tried to get my husband, a smart, undereducated guy from a working-class background (at best), to read Catcher because I love it so much. He felt very unsympathetic toward Holden on the grounds that that kind of teenage angst is a luxury of the well-off. He has a point, but (like someone upthread said) one of the reasons I like the book so much is that it's a snapshot of a different time and place.

And, all plot/characterization issues aside, I think Salinger was just a damn good writer. I particularly enjoy how he writes about children.

17karenmarie
May 27, 2008, 12:20pm Top

I remember loving The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. I'm almost afraid to re-read it. I have 3 copies on my shelves - mine, my husband's, and my MIL's first edition. Have to keep them all for sentimental value.

The best thing about Catcher is that it caused me to read all of J.D. Salinger's other works. I love pretty much everything else he wrote 'way more than Catcher. Nine Stories, Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction, Franny and Zooey, plus all his (pirated) uncollected short stories and stuff you can still only find in old magazines. They are all re-readable.

The Glass family is wonderful - Seymour, Buddy, Boo-Boo, the twins, Franny, Zooey (is there another brother I missed?) - and I agree with #16 Scratch about how he writes about children. They are magical, and innocent, and can be brilliant.

18Scratch
May 30, 2008, 8:13am Top

#17: Yeah, he gets the magical-innocent-brilliant thing all right, yet without a trace of sentimentality or preciousness. That's what gets me.

"THIS guy doesn't even know what backgammon is. They don't even HAVE one." --from one of the Nine Stories whose name I can't recall.

19karenmarie
May 30, 2008, 8:38am Top

Scratch - I'm tempted to go to Nine Stories and find that quote! I'm at work now, but perhaps this weekend.

20media1001
Jun 1, 2008, 3:34pm Top

Catcher in the Rye doesn't have much of a plot; it is less a story a more a character study of Holden. Whether you love or hate him, he is an interesting character and that's a big part of the appeal of the story. I didn't find him particularly likable either. He is a hypocrite and has a lot of conflicting goals running around in his head -- a strange mix of wisdom and ignorance. I always got the feel that he was a bright kid with potential, but very immature and socially inept. He is interesting from the standpoint that there are aspects of Holden in most of us and most of the people we know.

Also, the book does a good job of capturing the context of the times in which it was written, and the themes of mortality and impermanence, social hypocrisy, etc, are topics I find interesting.

Having said all of that...if you want to read a great Salinger book, read Franny and Zooey. Much better than Catcher in the Rye.

-- M1001

21Scratch
Jun 3, 2008, 11:29am Top

He is a hypocrite and has a lot of conflicting goals running around in his head -- a strange mix of wisdom and ignorance ... a bright kid with potential, but very immature and socially inept.

The very definition of a "troubled teen," no? And thus JDS made a particular character's situation "universally" relevant -- except that now, in the post-deconstructionist age of lit crit, we approach that concept with a grain of salt, as evidenced upthread several times.

And the context of its time--oh god yes. "Under the Biltmore clock"--so, so long ago. Or, as a friend of mine summarized it, "When even the bad kids wore ties to school."

22barney67
Jun 3, 2008, 6:51pm Top

James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause, wore a sport jacket to high school.

Rebel!

23barney67
Edited: Jun 3, 2008, 7:02pm Top

I think if you want to understand Salinger, watch the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

Salinger participated in those landings. He was in the military before the war started, in part so he could afford night classes in creative writing. He met Hemingway during the war. He took a typewriter in foxholes. After the war, he was an intelligence officer in the de-Nazification of Germany. Then he checked himself into a mental hospital in Austria for shell shock (post-traumatic stress syndrome) and, as in Farewell to Arms, married his nurse.

Unlike Holden, Salinger enjoyed prep school, sent his kids to prep schools and the Ivy League, and wanted no part of the hippie movement which tried to claim him. On formal occasions he wore an ascot (!). He met with his war buddies the rest of his life. Still does, as far as I know.

I can't help seeing The Catcher in the Rye as a quest that almost mimics Salinger's. Odysseus went on a quest for home. Others have gone on quests, for gold, to test one's mettle, for meaning in life, or for permanent values in a world that wants to undermine them.

Holden Caulfield wound up in a mental hospital. So did Salinger. But Salinger made it out with most of his faculties intact.

24Scratch
Jun 5, 2008, 12:31pm Top

Well, mental hospitals are hospitals, after all: the point is to emerge with faculties restored and intact if at all possible.

Anyway, I always suspected Bananafish was more autobiographical than Catcher. (But only up to the denouement, of course.)

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