The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with you for the world to think there’s something wrong with you. To convince you of that is pretty easy; Holden Caulfield, the world’s favorite icon of teen angst, is an example of this. He constantly referred to himself as a madman and was institutionalized for having legitimate concerns about the degeneracy of most people. The thing is, he was probably okay with it because it meant people, albeit psychoanalysts, were finally listening to him.

Even at twenty-nine I can relate to Holden’s concerns about and fascination with this often ‘perverty’ and demented world. He determinedly sought out authenticity in any form and was let down by adults and even his peers. Kids were the most unaffected people he knew. The fact that his genuine little sister, Phoebe, existed in a world of phonies was enough for him to abandon his nihilistic fantasy of becoming a recluse and rejecting society entirely. I guess that shows how shifting focus can shift attitude, but what an attitude it is! Holden is nothing short of hilarious as he cuts through the bullshit adults have allowed themselves to believe and put forth. Jack Kerouac once stated that his ‘favorite complaint about contemporary world’ was “the facetiousness of ‘respectable’ people…who, because not taking anything seriously, are destroying old human feelings older than Time Magazine” (Intro to Lonesome Traveler). I think Holden sees that kids don’t yet bury these ‘old human feelings’; to him, kids are natural and sweet, and when you are sweet and natural you are the best kind of person.

“All morons hate it when you call them a moron” (38)

My chronic ambivalence about what to do in life is Caufield-esque, not for lack of enthusiasm or to the degree of getting depressed at everything in sight, but more in the sense that no one existing occupation ever appealed to me entirely. Professions, noble and impressive as they may often be, always seemed contrived, especially coming from the ease and naturalness of my childhood. It was a childhood facilitated by the professions of my parents. Still, decisions are anguish for many.

Holden, however, is pretty clear; the one thing he can ever consider doing, does not exist. There is no such thing as a catcher, no cliff where children need to be protected. Unless he figuratively meant he wanted to become a teacher or he was just entertaining a Peter Pan fantasy of protecting kids from ever growing up. Those interpretations are believable and yet not what I think he meant. That he made something up when asked what he could picture himself being, was genius. It was an authentic answer, one not based on social constructs, but rather on what he truly thought would be a pleasant, important and sincere life task.

It is a relief to know that Salinger never wanted a movie made of this novel. Unlike my cherished, On the Road, hopefully in this case artistry prevails over industry. We shall see.


What I underlined:

Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad (46)

Mothers are all slightly insane (49)

When I’m with somebody that’s corny, I always act corny too (54)

You’re in love with knowledge (170)

I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t (192)

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody (192)


Edition: Penguin Books 1994

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