Alex's Reviews > The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
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M_50x66
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Oct 06, 07

Read in September, 2007

In lieu of an actual review for this classic, I'll simply post from another message board where I discussed my current re-read of it, specifically the fact that so many people despise it for one reason or another:

Having finally given Catcher the time it deserved (I never finished it first time round) I can now honestly say that not appreciating it means you missed the point.

I can see how it could be unlikeable. Holden is an annoying narrator. He vascilates from one opinion to the opposite in the span of a page, he rambles on often, he's got a low tolerance threshhold, and there are times he's just an ass. But, er, that's the point. If you don't like Holden, Salinger did his job.

On the same token, I find it hard to hate Holden, because I see bits of me in him. Less now than when I look back on when I was his age, but I think most teens should be able to relate to Holden, especially male teens. If you can't, you're either incredibly well adjusted, and if that's the case, you lucked out, or you're the sort of person that drives someone to become Holden, jaded by everything before graduating High School, convinced everyone is phony... not that Holden himself isn't phony at times, but every teen is.

The book isn't about events. The events are commonplace. They're supposed to be. It's about the character, and what he says, and to extrapolate, what it means. You could say it's cautionary, that Salinger is laughing at the spoiled rich brat he's writing Holden as, and that we the reader should take it as warning not to become him. We could see it as dystopian, that Salinger was commenting on the shallowness of American culture through the eyes of a child, one well-off enough to both see its most glaring pettiness as well as partake in it's seedier aspects. You could even see it as a bit of a commentary about what really matters... about how even the most cynical teen out there still has something they love (in Holden's case, family). You could even take that a step further, and see it psychologically... what damage a loss like that of Allie could cause in a young mind, etc. There's a lot to look into in The Catcher in the Rye... even the admittedly weak explaination of the title could spark discussion as to what it says about or means in terms of his character.

These are just the impressions I get from it... hardly researched, but then, the best book discussions shouldn't come from research but from your heart. I just think that with many classics, people start looking for something huge... a big, rollicking plot, some amazing humour or poetic language, and sometimes the brilliance of a book is so much more subtle. Not that Holden can't turn a phrase, and certainly not to say that there are times when Holden's sheer contradictory nature jumps the line into humorous, and not even to say there aren't some big and poignant moments in the mundanity (word?) of the plot... simply that in a book like this, even those moneymaker bits are understated.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Karen Thanks for the review. It's so hard to review a classic like this; so much has been written about Holden it seems like it's all been said a million times before. The best book discussions do indeed come from the heart.


message 2: by Laura (last edited Jun 13, 2009 08:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura I just read about a dozen reviews of this book here on Goodreads; so far, you're the only one who actually understood the book. You're spot on here: "But, er, that's the point. If you don't like Holden, Salinger did his job." Thanks for your review.


Julie-Anne Loved this review because it makes complete sense to me.
" I just think that with many classics, people start looking for something huge... a big, rollicking plot, some amazing humour or poetic language, and sometimes the brilliance of a book is so much more subtle."

I agree. :)


Michael Johnston It always annoys me when people make the claim that if you don't like something, you didn't get it. It is entirely possible to understand Salinger's intent and his point and still hate the book.


message 5: by Laura (last edited Jul 22, 2010 10:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura Absolutely. But when someone makes comments like, "This book sucks because because Holden is a phony himself!" then, well, that person didn't get the point of the book.


message 6: by Alex (last edited Jan 08, 2012 06:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex Years late, but:

I am totally behind the feeling that you can get something and hate it. I just think that there are some things where this is not true. I understand why people like dance music, conceptually. I know its purpose. I still find it repetitive, disposable pap, because there is plenty of music which is danceable but also creative and less synthetic feeling. On the other hand, I can understand why people wouldn't like downhome blues for similar reasons... it's very repetitive, lyrics often transfer from song to song, and the arrangements are as sparse as one imagines an old bluesman's wallet to be. The difference, to me, is there is a clear historical meaning to the latter, an authenticity and a window into another world. Dance music creates an illusion, while old blues shatters one, in a way. So if you say "I'm not a big fan of old blues," whatever. I don't have much of a collection myself. But to hate it, to me, makes me wonder how much you understand it. "I get they're poor and were oppressed. I understand the cultural need for this music to crop up, and the huge influence it had on modern musical forms. But I hate it." That sort of thing makes me want to know more about what it is that gives one such a visceral hatred combined with such a deep understanding. It signals a disagreement at a deeply personal level.

Put another way, I agree with almost nothing Ayn Rand believed in. I don't love her writing style. I think her followers are a huge concern when it comes to modern society. And yet The Fountainhead was still the most meaningful book I read last year. More on that perhaps in a later review. So I guess I cannot help but wonder what offense Catcher could have caused to lead to hate and understanding simultaneously. That implies a basic disagreement with Salinger's postulates, and that leads to a "why" every time.


Cosmic Arcata The Catcher in the Rye is about WW2. It is a story within a story. Holden (which is the name of a car) is just a vehicle to "understand" the WW2. See my review. When you understand that Salinger couldn't say what he knew about this war so he wrote it as a children's book... Just like Felix Salten in Bambi (not the Disney version, which is probably why Salinger didn't get his published.

Salinger tells you this is nit a David Copperfield story. So don't read it like it is about Holden. Hint: look at the first page of David Copperfield to understand "Caiulfields" name.

I hope you will reread it again. This time when you get to the Merry go round play the music Salinger said was playing, and see if that makes sense or if he is using this book to tell you about money, power and war.


Karen This book is about Holden Caulfield


Roger Excellent review. You nailed it. This tale of Holden's descent into the looney bin is so descriptive, I can't believe most of these reviewers got bored with the character and missed the point: we are all different; just because he's young, affected, neurotic, crazy, bored, boring, juvenile, etc., this is HIS story. If you ever went thru what I did as a teenager and a 19-year-old in 'Nam, then you'll understand. Otherwise,just get out the Windex and clean your spotless, squeaky-clean experience on this plane in case there's a bit of dust to annoy you!


message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex Cosmic: I don't doubt Salinger couldn't have had a deeper intention, and perhaps some day I will re-read with your ideas in mind. However, as I think is clear to you given your reading, every text can tell multiple stories. This is the beauty of reading, is it not? For a couple totally relevant examples, consider the original intentions of Baum's Oz or Carroll's Alice: both had very specific, very dull, and very forgotten purposes, yet both texts endure due to the surface pleasures and the more tangible, universal lessons.

As such, no matter how intentionally or cleanly a WWII narrative fits the story (and I certainly don't doubt it could be the case, or that you have evidence for it), Holden himself must have a purpose, and his persona must have a purpose. No matter what other layers exist, Catcher in the Rye is about Holden. It can also be about other things, but it is the story of Holden which would paint these other aspects. Holden would be the lens through which WWII was seen, in your example. To get at what Salinger is saying, whether it is commentary on a wayward culture or allegory for the horror and aftermath of the war, one needs to understand Holden.


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