The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books I feel like everyone read in high school or college...except me. Somehow, this one and 1984 I completely missed. So I read it, and this is what I think of it.
The Situation: Holden Caulfield is a 17 year-old boy who attends Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. The novel is told entirely from his point of view. He is incredibly cynical and alienated, and typically does not do well in any school subject except for English. He has one older brother who lives in Hollywood as a writer, and one younger sister who still lives at home. He had another brother, Allie, who died of leukemia. Holden talks like a 17 year-old boy, acts like one, thinks like one, the whole deal. The novel follows Holdens day-to-day life for a few days in December of 1949.
The Problem: Holden has been officially expelled from Pencey Prep, and this is not the first school that has kicked him out. Apparently, this has become a reoccuring theme in Holden's life. Naturally, Holden is not too thrilled about his parents finding out about this. He is scheduled to return home soon since everyone is about to go on Christmas break, but his parents will also receive a letter from the school explaining the situation. The novel follows Holden during this weird limbo/waiting period between when he leaves Pencey and few days early, but before he returns. Meanwhile, Holden provdies a running commentary about how pretty much everyone at his school, including the teachers are phony, something Holden just cannot stand. Even after he leaves Pency and heads to New York, Holden continues to have issues with "phonies," among other things. There is a run in with a pimp; old professors that try to set him on the right path; old girlfirends; his incredibly likeable little sister; and he even manages to get blind drunk at a bar despite being too young to be served. Oh yes, and the chain smoking...so much smoking.
Genre, Theme, History: It is a novel, but as far as any other kind of classification, I got nothing. There are many running themes, especially in the was Holden speaks. As I mentioned before, there is much talk about his dislike of people who are phony. But the thing is, it becomes incredibly obvious that Holden doesn't really like much of anything. Some things he does find funny as the "kill him." But there is also plenty that "depresses the hell out of him," and these things usually involve anything that reminds him of his current situation and how he really isn't advancing in his life, at least education-wise. Holden also has excuses for everything and why he has not been successful in his life so far. And by the end of the novel, it seems that Holden has not matured or prgoressed at all. He does not even want to say he will do better at his new school in the fall because he doesn't know what he'll do until he does it. In other words, he probably won't do any better and hasn't changed at all.
The title actually comes from a song the Holden misquotes (Robert Burns' Comin' Through the Rye). Holden imagines himself as the guardian over children playing in a rye field at the edge of a field and as they fall off, he is the catcher that saves them and puts them back. Holden would like to spend the rest of his life saving these children from falling out of the rye field.
My Verdict: Meh. Not quite what I was expecting. I guess I was hoping to be blown away and think "How come I never read this?!" But alas, that did not happen. Oh well.
Favorite Moment: My favorite moment is probably when Holden has his first conversation with his little sister, Phoebe, and she basically tells him what the reader has already figured out, and Holden has a hard time refuting it.
Favorite Character: The little sister, Phoebe. It is easy to see why Holden cares for her so much, and despite his many flaws, she genuinely seems to care for him too. She seems to be a pretty smart and wel-adjusted little girl, and while Holden actually likes talking to her, she likes talking to him too, but also isn't afraid to tell him what he may not want to hear, even though it is true.
Recommended Reading: It may be strange, but I think I'll go with Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. They both have the alienation thing going for them and first-person narrators that are completely unreliable and mildly irritating.