I’ve read the book 8 years ago, as a college assignment. It’s been quite a lot since then, so weeks ago it felt good to re-read it and understand it as the over 30 year old person I am.
The main character, a character indeed, is 17. The typical teenager who believes everyone is a ‘phony’ and that everything in life is black and white. Yes, it’s that age, when you despise people who are not perfect, when you feel superior to anyone and anything and when life seems very simple and yet so complicated.
Holden Caulfield had been expelled. Again. He comes from a ‘well-to-do’ family in New York city and his folks have done all they could to make sure he gets a top education. While he’s good with literature and writing, Holden fails other classes so he gets expelled once again.
His relationship with his mates is bad, since all of them seem liars and imperfect for his high expectations. He is not a bad kid, nor is he stupid, but right now Holden doesn’t accept anything less that perfection in the people he knows. His school troubles are also normal for someone who cannot ‘endure’ something that doesn’t make him happy, just for as long as it’s needed to graduate. Life is school is never perfect, since we face classes we despise, but every student has to grind his teeth and move on to achieve the final goal.
As the immature person he won’t accept he is, Holden leaves school in the middle of the night and, instead of going straight back home to listen to his parents yell at him (within good reason, let’s not forget their kid got expelled again), he tries to prevent that moment from coming too soon, so he gets a room in a hotel in the City.
Holden’s life is not as simple as it might seem and he’s trying to face his own past demons. He has a big brother who’s an accomplished writer and who accepted writing for Hollywood. As you can imagine, the idealist in Holden is not pleased with this decision, though it brought his brother fame and money. That meant accepting a compromise and for a teenager this is not acceptable.
His biggest pain though comes from losing his younger bother, Allie, who died of leukemia. Allie was the perfect boy for whom Holden had nothing but love and respect. His only younger sibling now is his sister, Phoebe, an amazingly well behaved girl who’s getting good grades and makes their entire family proud.
She’s also a kid, so the big bad world wasn’t yet perverted her. Holden loves children and believes they are the only ones who haven’t lost their innocence. Sometimes he imagines himself in a rye field, watching children as they play near a cliff. Whenever one is in danger of falling, he’d be saving them.
The days spent not facing his parents are filled with a lot of events. He drinks, hires a prostitute, even meets a girl friend. All this time the people he knows fail him all over again, proving to be imperfect, just as humans are.
Still not willing to face his parents, he goes home and meets Phoebe, telling her he wants to leave and start a new life in the west. Her decision to leave with him makes him realize there’s a new decision to be made. A decision that shows for the first time a sign of maturity.
I won’t go into too much details, since I wouldn’t like to spoil the end for you. The book is worth reading and good for people any age, not only teenagers. They’d surely recognize their own fears and thoughts in it, while for us, young adults, it just brings a smile, showing us how we once were.
The Catcher in the Rye was received with interest and was also pretty controversial at the time, but it’s a book anyone should read.