By Marluela Trumata
‘Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior.’ – Mr Antolini from The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a coming of age novel that challenges the necessities of growing up with the pretence of maturity. Holden Caulfield, our protagonist, is a boy lost in the whirlwind of his marginalized rebellion against the constituted norms of 1950’s American society, such as movies, technology, sex, and religion, whilst constantly digressing from his own self-proclaimed sense of morality with his misadventures across New York City.
Holden’s journey is told in a series of episodic chapters through unreliable narration. His sufferings stem from the death of his brother Allie, witnessing the suicide of one of his classmates, and his inability to impress in school. In addition to that, he is constantly lost in the idea of growing up, and watching other people growing up; unable to accept the concept despite trying hard to fit into the image of a mature young adult. This results in plenty of sentimental struggles, unwise decisions, and Holden witnessing the awful and unforgivable sides of people, accommodated by the setting of 1950’s New York City.
Holden describes the world he lives in as ‘surrounded by phonies’, claiming anything and anyone that breathes the slightest bit of pretence as something ‘phony’, expressing clear distain for dishonesty. That said, Holden does not realize that he himself participates in this ‘phony’ structure of society by constantly contradicting not only his beliefs, but displaying ever present hypocrisy all throughout the novel. He states that he hates ‘movies like poison’, using the simile of ‘like poison’ to refer to movies as something toxic and dangerous. Yet, he is constantly referring to movies and the actors, and even mentions going to see the movies himself.
Holden also has an aversion to sexual activities which is also a result of his rejection of growing up, and his clinging onto the mirage of Jane Gallagher, the strongest female presence in Holden’s mind, despite the fact that she is never physically present within the novel. Jane represents an age of innocence for Holden, and his constant wanting to call her is his seeking for that innocence—but calling her would break that illusion for him, therefore he never actually ends up talking to her. Instead, he thinks of their past, and he thinks of what she could be in the present, and not what she really is. One of his thoughts straying to a movie-like scene of him getting shot and her bandaging him up.
‘The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.’ – Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a novel of denial, of understanding the way the world works, and accepting it, moving on from it, and living it.