J.D. Salinger was, and still is, one of the most dynamical and effective writers of the 20th century. With his book, The Catcher in the Rye, he practices the essence of freedom of speech, and yet, also creating a lot of controversy in the Literature world. Our reactions to his book with censoring and harsh eschew reaction leads to only one question, why and what? Why did Salinger choose this style of expression and what was he trying to express. Both of these topics will be discussed in-depth in this essay. The fact that, through the character Holden Caulfield, Salinger is portraying how people grow from youth to adults will also be discussed.
Holden Caulfield, the seventeen-year-old narrator of this novel, addresses the reader directly from a mental hospital in California. He wants to tell the reader about the events that took place over a two-day period in New York. Holden, first talks about his older brother, D.B., who was once a “terrific” short-story writer but now has sold out and writes scripts in Hollywood. The body of the novel follows. It is a long flashback, constructed through Holden’s memory. The entire story is basically Holden looking back on his actions and reflecting on them. How he interacted with everyone on his little rebellious adventure away from structure and adults and showing us how this played out. The Catcher in the Rye expressed through Caulfield, how young people grew to be adults in the author’s opinion during its time of publication.
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One of Salinger’s ways of expression through his main character, Holden Caulfield, is through Holden’s reflections on events. As Holden once said, “Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway” (Salinger 121). His reflections on change are very negative, showing through these, that he is in a state of immaturity in his life. He does not know yet, that change is going to happen, and you need to adapt in order to become an adult. Salinger’s method of using a different style than other popular, and more accepted more books for his time, is another way of expression. A critic, Phillip Roth details how “…the figure of the writer has lately come to be placed directly in the reader’s line of vision so that there is a connection…” (464). Roth explains how this method of expression of one’s change from youth to adult is through a youth himself, and from his perspective. One perspective that plays the “devil’s advocate.”
This meaning that both sides of an argument are expressed, the immature and the mature wise one. As Mary McCarthy mentions in one of their criticisms, “Salinger sees the world in terms of allies and enemies” (35-41). In this story were the views of Holden’s teacher are expressed as well, “allies and enemies” if you will. “I have a feeling that you’re riding some kind of terrible, terrible fall…” says Mr. Antolino “the whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply they wish… so they gave up looking” (Salinger 186). Mr. Antolino tries to show Holden another perspective, an adult’s perspective, something that the author does not use much in The Catcher in the Rye. An immature, unguided perspective, was chosen for this story which was shocking to be openly expressed in such a manner in American literature for its time of publication, which leads to “The Catcher in the Rye’s” censoring.
Phillip Roth had also said “[J.D. Salinger], more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture” (464). This quotation supports the fact that The Catcher in the Rye was a relevant book for its time, and in fact, this is how things really were. Many people did not agree with this and had classified this book as nonsense, in end, censoring it from many public schools along with parents, upon its publication. Salinger’s method of expression was not taken with open arms at all. For me to have read this book at the date of its publication and first debut and write this kind of essay would be unacceptable by many. Holden’s expression through vularities and wild frowned upon actions, we’re just not okay during that time period. Nevertheless, this story was relevant. Roth’s opinion along with other scholars agrees. The Catcher in the Rye did express factually correctly in some cases how life was for kids trying to grow up in that time period. This was more of the rude reality to some adults, and that just wasn’t going to be shared openly in such places as schools and households. This leads to the monitoring of youth’s influences strictly. One way was to watch out for The Catcher in the Rye.
Another theme is that of childhood versus adulthood. Holden belongs in neither of these two worlds (as do many adolescents) and finds himself in a position to see which category he would rather choose. Holden seems frustrated when he mentions, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible” (Salinger 202). In the end, his choice is to be neither immature, arguably the hindrance of childhood, nor phony, the evil of adulthood. During Chapters, eight through eleven (53-80) of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is staying at the Edmont hotel. Here he shows how he doesn’t really interact with his new environment, but tries to connect with his old environment, as in, friends and family back home.
These are the very people and situations Holden wanted to get away from and yet, he is still tied to them, making him still an adolescent not ready to leave home quite yet. Although Allie, Holden’s younger brother, does not appear as a character in the novel, he is a significant presence. When Holden gets very depressed, he sometimes talks sort of out loud to his younger brother. Throughout the novel, Holden reflects not only on himself but also on others around him. This shows an aspect of the adolescent inside of him, needed more, peer counselling if you will. There is nothing wrong with growing up, according to Salinger. There is something wrong with growing phony, and getting help along the way is not a bad thing.
“… Referring to himself as a ‘madman,’ Holden does so without realizing the basis of the comparison: that his nature, which should be developing towards maturity, has stalled within an early stage of childhood” (Glasser 432-55). J.D. Salinger uses the main character, Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye to express how one grows from youth to adult. Lessons of life are learned through Holden’s mistakes and immature views. As mentioned by David D. Galloway, “Holden does not refuse to grow up so much as he agonizes over the state of being grown up. The innocent world of childhood is amply represented in The Catcher in the Rye, but Holden, as a frustrated, disillusioned, anxious hero, stands for modern man rather than merely for the modern adolescent” (251). This quotation shows how indeed this novel expresses through the main character, Holden, the transitions in life, and also supporting the fact of its relevance for its date of publication. These adolescent views may have been so vulgar to warrant this story’s censoring as well, never less, The Catcher in the Rye was a relevant representation for its a time of publication. After all, figuratively speaking, all we have to do according to Holden is “…catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…” and we would just be “the catcher in the rye and all” (Salinger 173).
Galloway, David D. “The Love Ethic,” in the Absurd Hero in American Fiction, 1970. Pp.
140-69. Otd. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 3. Michigan: Gale, 1985.
Glasser, William. “The Catcher in the Rye,” in The Michigan Quarterly Review, 1976.
Pp. 432-55. Qtd. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 8. Michigan: Gale, 1985.
McCarthy, Mary. “J.D. Salinger’s Closed Circuit” in The Writing on the Wall and Other
Litterary Essays, 1970. Pp. 35-41. Otd. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 3.
Michigan: Gale, 1985.
Roth, Philip. Reading Myself and Others, 1975. Qtd. in Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Vol. 8. Michigan: Gale, 1985.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye, Boston: Little Brown Books, 1991. Pp. 1-214.
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