This famous American novel of adolescent angst follows the story of a young man named Holden Caufield.
Holden is on the verge of being expelled from his expensive boarding school when, on impulse, after a fist fight, he decides to leave the school a couple of days early. The novel follows that couple of days, during which Holden wanders around New York and struggles with his many and various issues.
Holden is a seriously unhappy young man, but the book is often very funny. Here he is describing one of his old teachers:
He started going into this nodding routine. You never saw anybody nod as much in your life as old Spencer did. You never knew if he was nodding a lot because he was thinking and all, or just because he was a nice old guy that didn't know his ass from his elbow.Or here's school boy talk:
He was always telling us about a lot of creepy guys that go around having affairs with sheep, and guys that go around with girl's pant sewed into the lining of their hats and all. And flits and Lesibans.Or here's a movie review:
All I can say is, don't see it if you don't want to puke all over yourself.A model of the sort of journalistic excellence to which this blog aspires.
What is so difficult about Holden's situation, and perhaps what has made it so pertinent to generations of young people in particular, is that Holden can't say why he is so unhappy. His is an amorphous, nebulous alienation.
The closest he can get to describing his feelings is to calling everyone and everything 'phony.' Thus, for example, on the movie:
The part that got me was, there was this lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You'd have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn't. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn't take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddamn wolf You take somebody that cries their goddamn eye out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they're mean bastards at heart. I'm not kidding.He also finds it phony when people, to be polite, tell him the coffee's almost ready. It's also phony when ex-girfriends are polite to him. And ninety percent of what's on television, also phony.
Undoubtedly, these things are phony. And Holden's revolt against all that, I found admirable, and indeed logically coherent. But I think its a very young person's revolt. When you get a little older, you maybe start to think that we all need to make concessions, and compromises, just to be able to keep on sliding by. Most people's lives are sort of incoherent. 'Marriage is compromise,' an elderly Indian man at a wedding told me recently; and then he added, with awkward but total sincerity: 'life is compromise.'