Goodreads Synopsis: The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.
As I sit here trying to write this review, I just keep reading the synopsis for this book and think, “What a load of pretentious bullshit.” To define Holden Caulfield as a hero, a poet, or eloquent, is ridiculous. Holden is a teenager, living through the years where we’re all angry, horny, and confused. He is no more and no less.
When I first read this book, years and years ago, I think I was around 18 or so, I was disgusted with the narrator. Holden is a white able-bodied male, with seemingly little to complain about. I hated the story and hated him. But I picked it up again because I’m in the middle of writing several pieces that could be considered “coming of age” pieces, like Catcher in the Rye. So I wanted to give it a second try and take a more critical look at the writing style. To my surprise this time I didn’t hate Holden, and I didn’t hate the story. In fact, I even found some things to like about it.
Catcher in the Rye is a critique of its times, and I really enjoyed realizing that aspect of the story. When Holden is kicked out of school again he goes on a little journey to try and find something to give himself meaning. All around the world is shouting at him about what he should be, how he should live, and who he should get married to. And all of this seems like nonsense to him. I empathized with that feeling. It’s confusing to be a teenager, to say the least. And it’s enjoyable to see Holden poke at the supposedly picture-perfect American dream of the 1950s. It is, in his own words, phony.
That said, I think this book has far too much hype around it. Holden isn’t a rebel remodel. I’m not sure I agree that this book is a classic. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good book. It’s something I can see being important to teenagers, and it’s good for context into the 1950s. BUT this book is still a product of its time. Holden is incredibly privileged and his complaints still come from this place of privilege. It’s annoying to read about another white male complaining about how difficult their life is. Holden is sexist, homophobic and he sees the world through the lens of someone who has always had money. I don’t think these traits should be ignored just because we’ve stamped the book with the title of ”classic”. This is a book we give to teenagers to read in school, and while I don’t think that should stop, I do question its place in school curriculum. I think this book needs to be placed within the context of other books about teenage rage and confusion. We need to be reading books about trans rage, and black rage, as well as Catcher in the Rye.
When Catcher was first published there weren’t other books like it. The voice of the modern teenager was a new one for the literary world. But it’s not anymore. So why are we pretending like Catcher in the Rye is still so unique? I believe this book has its place, but I also believe that its place has changed over time and we need to remember that.
In the end, reading this book was a really interesting experience for me, and I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.