The Catcher in the Rye

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Admittedly, the title of this popular book published first in 1951 by J.D.Salinger sounded a little mysterious. So did the book cover, all in black, the words curving invitingly, and no image to break the monotony or to impress upon the mind any catcher.

But I picked the book because a glance at the words inside opened up a new and different world of adolescents making sense of the world that inextricably belongs to adults. The adults make the rules, they understand things in a way that is incomprehensible to the protagonist, Holden Caufield.

The book uncovers teenage angst, of coming to terms with the world, of trying to understand the motives of people and of following the rules which to the young mind means compromising on authenticity or principals.

There is a strong undercurrent of confusion, of trying to understand the work of adults. At 16, going on to 17, Holden cannot understand old age; he is unable to comprehend how a person is able to live contentedly when he has difficulty bending or even being accurate with throwing things on beds, which are ‘just a few inches’ away. He cannot understand mortality and his brother’s death brings on an outburst of violence that prompts a visit to a psychoanalyst. Holden, then struggles through school, three schools in fact, till that time in the narrative. He is talented, as is evident from his mastery of language in school and composition. He lives a typical life of a teenager in a boarding school but his principals are high; he often muses on the loss of innocence in adults. He is incredibly gentle around little children, in fact, his love for his kid sister Phoebe alters the course of his rash actions. He listens to her and her opinion matters to her. He listens to his favourite professors as well, and very respectfully even though he is unable to grasp their urgency regarding reforming his life. Like a youngster, he is observant when it comes to people and their behaviour.

Holden comes from a prosperous background and it is hard to attribute his confused personality to a disadvantaged background. He has money and he has access to good medical opinion. Holden tries to act cool about his sexuality but he is a virgin. His ideals of love are high and he is very considerate.

Holden is very intelligent but he is almost a misfit in the society. He finds it difficult to get along with people. He is confused about the motive and behaviour of people around him. He is rudderless and direction less. He is moving towards an ‘abyss’ as his professor puts it. Yet, Holden is asked to introspect and to understand that he is not the only one who feels lost in the world.

The language of the book is unconventional. It is from Holden’s perspective that we see his world and meet the people in his life. Much of what he says is slang and he uses his favourite phrases repeatedly.

Coming back to the title, the catcher refers to a person standing in the field of rye, ready to catch any child from the group that is playing, to save him from falling over the cliff. When asked, what he would like to be when he grows, Holden wants to be a catcher, in a way, saving the children from losing their innocence.

An exquisite read about a child turning reluctantly into an adult.