Sunday, 19 February 2012

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by JD Salinger


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.'

Poor Holden.

6 comments:

  1. I love this book, but I agree with you about compromise. It's one of the main reasons why I loved Austen's Persuasion so much.

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  2. I think it is less unhappiness and more abut a loss of happiness, knowing that the things that made him happy were gone forever. He tries out adult happiness (drinking, prostitutes, movies, being a big shot) only to realize that he doesn't enjoy them. His friends have all moved on to these pursuits, but he still wants to be a kid. Otherwise a fine review, especially that last bit about the Indian man. In fact, all of your reviews are interesting. I'm glad to see that your wonderful sense of humor comes through in your writing as well. My only concern is how much you are reading. Are you leaving enough time for television? If you need me to send you an emergency list of shows to watch, I'd be glad to do it.

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    1. With or without the typo, the first sentence doesn't make a lot of sense. I meant to say that he seems more anxious than unhappy - afraid that he won't find a replacement for the simple joys of childhood in the adult world. That is all.

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  3. I think that is a very good point Damian. I never really thought about it as a book about growing up, and losing the joys of childhood. This is the Macalester education coming up trumps, I can tell. The indian man still haunts me. I fear my youth feels long ago . . .x

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  4. Nymeth, I LOVE Persuasion. It's by far my favourite Austen. I think it's one of the few books I know that's really about mistakes and their consequences in an adult way.

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  5. Its a shame i've not as yet read this book. Its seems a favorite of many. Thanks anyway.

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