Kathy's Reviews > The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
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it was ok

I read the end of The Catcher in the Rye the other day and found myself wanting to take Holden Caulfield by the collar and shake him really, really hard and shout at him to grow up. I suppose I've understood for some time now that The Catcher in the Rye -- a favorite of mine when I was sixteen -- was a favorite precisely because I was sixteen. At sixteen, I found Holden Caulfield's crisis profoundly moving; I admired his searing indictment of society, his acute understanding of human nature, his extraordinary sensitivity (I mean, come on, he had a nervous breakdown for God's sake, he had to be sensitive). At sixteen, I wanted to marry Holden Caulfield. At forty, I want to spank him. After all, Holden's indictment of society boils down to the "insight" that everybody is a phony. That's the kind of insight a sixteen year old considers deep. A forty year old of the grown-up variety recognizes Holden's insight as superficial and banal, indulging in the cheapest kind of adolescent posturing. It suggests a grasp of society and of human nature that's about as complex as an episode of Dawson's Creek. Holden and his adolescent peers typically behave as though the fate they have suffered (disillusionment and the end of innocence) is unique in human history. He can't see beyond the spectacle of his own disillusionment (and neither can J. D. Salinger); for all his painful self-consciousness, Holden Caulfield is not really self-aware. He can't see that he himself is a phony.

Compare Salinger's novel of arrested development, for instance, with a real bildungsroman, Great Expectations. Holden Caulfield is an adolescent reflecting on childhood and adolescence; Pip Pirrip is an adult reflecting on childhood and adolescence. Holden Caulfield has the tunnel vision of teendom, and he depicts events with an immediacy and absorption in the experience that blocks out the broader context, the larger view. Pip Pirrip has the wonderful double vision of a sensitive adult recollecting the sensitive child he used to be; he conveys at the same time the child's compelling perspective and the adult's thoughtful revision of events. While Holden Caulfield litters his narrative with indignant exposes of phonies and frauds, Pip Pirrip skillfully concentrates on "the spurious coin of his own make" -- that is, without letting the child Pip and the adolescent Pip in on the joke, he exposes himself as a phony. Pip Pirrip grows up. Holden Caulfield has a nervous breakdown.

I suppose the only reason I begrudge him his breakdown is that so many in our culture -- many more, unfortunately, than just the legitimate adolescents among us -- seem fixated on Holden as a symbol of honesty and socially-liberating rebellion. We view nervous collapse and dysfunction as a badge of honor, a sign -- to put it in Caulfieldian terms -- that we are discerning enough to see through all the crap. Our celebration of overwrought disaffection reminds me of the last sentence of Joyce’s Araby: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” Here is the adolescent pose non-pareil. Equally self-accusing and self-aggrandizing, it captures the adolescent at the precise moment when his own disillusionment becomes the object of his grandiose and self-dramatizing vision. That’s the kind of crap that Holden Caulfield (and J. D. Salinger) cannot see through. And it is often the kind of crap that we “adults” like to slosh around in.

The Barney beating of several years ago is another symptom of our arrested adolescence, our inability to ride the wave of disillusion into the relatively calm harbor of adulthood -- as though flailing around in the storm and raging at the wind were in themselves marks of distinction and a superior sensibility. I remember a news story about a woman in a Barney costume being seriously injured when a rabid (and probably drunken) anti-Barney fanatic attacked the big purple dinosaur at some public event. Now, I don’t know the age of the Barney-beater, but the act itself is a supremely adolescent one, in which the impulsive response to disillusionment is to lash out at those symbols of childhood which made the biggest dupes of us. At the dawn of adolescence, when Barney begins to appear cloying and false, it seems natural to want to beat up on him, as though it was Barney himself who pulled one over on us instead of our own poignant and necessary misapprehension of the nature of things. I could see Holden Caulfield beating up on Barney (at least rhetorically), and I could see Holden Caulfield missing Barney (as he misses all the “phonies” at the end of the book), but I cannot see Holden Caulfield accepting the postlapsarian Barney on new terms, as a figure who is meant for children and not for him. For all his touching poses about wanting to be the “catcher in the rye,” what Holden really wants is not to save children but to be a child again.
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Finished Reading
March 25, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 86 (86 new)

message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Your analysis of Holden Caulfield is spot on and I also loved him as a teenager and have a totally different view of him now. But I'm confused as to why you gave the book only 2 stars because of the flaws of the main character. The book is still excellent even if Holden Caulfield has a particular mindset you don't share with him anymore. Why do you want him to grow up so badly? He isn't 40. He's 16. The book is just a snapshot. The bulk of the story takes place in a matter of a few days and he had only been sent off to "rest" a short time before. Not every book has to have a complete character arc, and I think it's a plus that this book doesn't. That it just leaves the character to be what he is. Whatever your view of how Holden should have thought or acted, I would think that a book that caused that much thought and consideration from you would merit more than 2 stars.

Kathy Hi Lisa,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I think your interpretation of the novel as a "snapshot" of Holden Caulfield at a particularly vulnerable and typically adolescent moment of his existence is very interesting and worth considering. The reason that I tend not to buy into that interpretation, and thus the reason for the two stars, is that -- at least in my reading of the book -- there appears to be no distance between Holden Caulfield and J. D. Salinger. Salinger never seems to treat Caulfield with any sense of irony or any hint that there's a difference between Holden's adolescent sensibility and his own. The effect of this lack of distance, for me, is to suggest an endorsement of Caulfield's view of the world.

I *do* think it's harder to create that kind of distance with a character who is the first-person narrator of the novel, but great novelists can do it (Dostoyevsky in Notes from Underground, Nabokov in Lolita, Joyce in some sections of Ulysses, Dickens in GE and DC). Salinger either meant to create that distance and -- in my opinion -- failed, or he meant to associate himself with Holden Caulfield's worldview. I have come around to the second interpretation, partly from my reading of Catcher in the Rye, and partly from my reading of some of Salinger's other works.

It's possible, too, that my reconsideration of The Catcher in the Rye, and my turn against it, was more a matter of being embarrassed about my previous over-estimation of the novel -- in which case my reaction against it is probably an over-reaction and is probably the same kind of adolescent disillusionment that I attributed to Holden Caulfield. Maybe I'll have to revisist it again when I'm sixty! :)

Anyway, I really appreciate your comment. It's fun to talk about books like this.

message 3: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Right on.

David I am so glad someone else tumbled to the fact that Emperor Salinger is at best scantily clad.

Kathy Thanks, David!

Heather I totally agree with you, although I wanted to slap Holden.

message 7: by Anna (new) - rated it 1 star

Anna I'm nearly 24, not 40, but when I read this book I wanted to send Holden to French Foreign Legion - at least after their training he could feel really special.

Cathy I also agree with your assessment on this one. I read this book as a teenager after hearing nothing but how amazing it was. I was underwhelmed. I reread it again a few years ago and felt the same way.

Laia Senserrich I disagree: one of the best things of the book is the sympathy you develop for Holden. Even if you disagree with his point of view, you can feel his disenchantment. His pain is real, and that's what it should be taken into account. Some of the characters he encounters can see his pain too, although they don't share his views over the world.

I think Salinger's voice lays exactly there. The author is extremely sympathetic and understanding with his main character, but that doesn't mean he associates with his adolescent's point of view. You're underestimating the writer there, I think. (see some Eric Rohmer's films and some of his foolish and charming heroines for similar approaches).

Also, I was in tears when Holden understands that he has to let Phoebe grow for her own benefit. He is gonna let her mature, even if this means she is not gonna be the pure child she adores anymore (read "phoniness" here). That's one of the deepest transformations I've ever found in a book.

And, by the way, I don't think adulthood offers much anyway (but this is just a personal note). I mean, there is the threat of becoming indulgent and accomodate, and Holden knew it even though he couldn't express it or focus his discontentment in the right way.

(note: my first language is not English)

message 10: by Laia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laia Senserrich After all, Holden Caudfield is such a sensitive kid...

Kathy Yours is an interesting take, Laia. I simply disagree.

Part of the problem for me, I think, is that I've gotten past the stage of romanticizing childhood. There *is* an innocence and freshness to childhood -- an innocence that it's natural to want to protect -- but it's not as though children themselves can't be duplicitous, self-deceiving, and even bad (see The Lord of the Flies). Salinger's depiction of Holden's "crisis" smacks too much of " noble savage" philosophy for my taste.

Holden's tears for Phoebe at the end of the book mark the onset of his nervous breakdown, and at the time of the narration, Holden is *still* in the hospital recovering. Salinger seems to place too high a value on nervous breakdowns (see also Franny Glass), as though only the best people have them. That viewpoint, as I said in my review, is ultimately an adolescent one.

message 12: by Laia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laia Senserrich
Thanks Kathy for your reply.

I've never read the book when I was sixteen, but 24. It might make a difference, I guess, since I never romanticize adolescence while reading it.

If Salinger wanted to make a real point about the "phoniness" of the world, he definetely took the wrong person to guide us into that view, don't you think? After all, Holden is completely lost and astray during the whole book.

I've never felt I had to assimilate his views, not even having to idealize childhood, which made me think it wasn't Salinger's intention (although it might accidentally happen when you're sixteen). In fact, I think it has passages filled up with exquisite irony.

However, I agree there is breach between the adult world and childhood. Children are not these kind creatures, of course, but I believe that self depiction and neuroses is something you master as you get older.

Holden fatal flaw is his reluctancy to take responsabilities, and that's what exasperate the adult reader. That's why I thought the ending was a masterstroke. Holden is not letting Phoebe accompany him in his intentions to run away. Not only is sacrificing himself, but he is acting as a parental figure for Phoebe. Thus, I believed he satrted grasping what all those teachers, maybe also parents, have been feeling for him, have been trying to tell him. Sure, at the end of the book he is still recovering. That takes time. But when I turned last page I could only sigh and think of what a wonderful, fascinating and insightful creature Holden Cauldfield would be.

Btw, you must find this interesting. Roger Ebert went into a similar shift with The Graduate.


Note: But I've never thought Benjamin would turn into a wonderful human being.

Finally, you inspired me in reading Catcher in the Rye in some years from now and, who knows, might come here and my opinion might change. ;-)

message 13: by Laia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laia Senserrich Ops, I meant "self deception" and to mention that Holden is not an archetypical teenager anyway.

Kathy Hi Laia,

I appreciate your comments, and I think your thoughts about the book and about Holden himself are insightful. We'll have to agree to disagree, at this point, about the book's ultimate success, but -- as I said before -- who knows? I may reread it twenty years from now and have a totally different take.

Thanks for the article about The Graduate. It's funny you should mention The Graduate, since I had an experience with that movie that is the opposite of the experience I had with Catcher in the Rye. I was sort of put off by The Graduate in my callow youth, but I appreciate it (and its humor) a lot better now that I'm a little older.

It's been fun talking to you!

message 15: by Amber (new) - rated it 1 star

Amber I am 21 and I could not connect with this book either. I agree completely with wanting to grab him and give him a good shake. I also found the use of the same phrases over and over and over very annoying. Over all I just didn't like the book and I would not have read it if I had not of known about the connections to our presidental history.

message 16: by Emma (new)

Emma I've read a lot of reviews of The Catcher in the Rye and Kathy, I think your review was one of the best I've ever read. So many reviews seem to give a really superficial interpretation such as "nothing happened!" and "Holden is sulky", so I appreciate your considered insight and eloquence.

I agree with a lot of what you said - and some of it provided new considerations for me. Actually, I felt a sense of disappointment in the book (for the first time) after I read your review. Your point about Salinger's seeming endorsement of the "sad genius" and "noble savage" type-character (i.e. Holden, Franny, Seymour) struck a chord with me. I mean, it made me consider the prospect of arrogance and immaturity -- or, a "superior sensibility" -- in Salinger's writing.

Then I thought to myself: "Hey, Holden was arrogant and immature." Then I thought, "Most teenagers are arrogant and immature". Then I thought, "wow, Salinger, through Holden, provided a mirror to the teenage experience."

So. I wanted to throw up the idea that Salinger, rather than "endorsing" Holden's world-view, actually masterfully provided, through Holden's character, the mirror to the teenage experience. I think it is a very big leap to say that Salinger had the same "adolescent sensibility" as Holden just because there were no obvious signs of "distance" between author and protagonist. I mean, isn't it possible to write AS Holden Caulfield without BEING Holden Caulfield? Is that not a reflection of a great writer? Why must we have glimpses of the writer's opinion/position in a novel at all? A great novel is one you merge with, one where the concept of "this is fiction and there is an author" dissipates.

Your comments about your teenage reading of the book seem to support this idea. You said: "At sixteen, I found Holden Caulfield's crisis profoundly moving; I admired his searing indictment of society, his acute understanding of human nature, his extraordinary sensitivity (I mean, come on, he had a nervous breakdown for God's sake, he had to be sensitive). At sixteen, I wanted to marry Holden Caulfield." I'm thinking: Is that not an indication of Salinger's arresting power as a writer? Perhaps you, as a teenager, experienced the novel as Salinger aimed.

Also, when you say: "Holden and his adolescent peers typically behave as though the fate they have suffered (disillusionment and the end of innocence) is unique in human history. He can't see beyond the spectacle of his own disillusionment (and neither can J. D. Salinger); for all his painful self-consciousness, Holden Caulfield is not really self-aware. He can't see that he himself is a phony." Isn't it true that teenagers commonly feel as if their experience is unique in human history, that teenagers commonly can't see beyond the spectacle of their own disillusionment, that teenagers commonly are not really self-aware? Is that not then the point, that Holden is a teenager epitomising the teenage experience? True that Holden is hypocritical --arguably, he himself is a phony-- but perhaps it was Salinger's precise aim to portray him thus?


As an aside: If we were, for argument's sake, to understand Salinger's "view of the world" being at one with the characters in his novels, I argue that ---from a reading of Franny and Zooey -- Salinger's "world-view" has a wise and mature aspect (arguably separate from Holden's.) In the last quarter of the book -- particularly the last couple of talks Zooey gives Franny -- Zooey turns serious, the boring precociousness of the family stops and the important punchline comes out. Zooey's last discussion with Franny showed a new attitude, a courageous attitude, and one seemingly beyond that of typical self-involved adolescence.

The Fat Lady. I thought of Seymour's Fat Lady as a way of life. For Seymour and Zooey, the Fat Lady was a balanced way of life (as in Zen Buddhism -- a big interest of Salinger's), an acceptance of the ups-and-downs of life, and a commitment to live life "well". e.g Seymour told Zooey that, if he respected himself, he should damn well shine his shoes [message: if Zooey really was as smart and superior as he thinks he is, he should damn well shine his shoes, because he should, first and foremost, be WORTHY of the audience he dislikes.] Brilliant.

And with that last point, I feel that this book was, in a way, more moving than The Catcher, because it was (to me) an extended coda of The Catcher, which, in effect, completed Holden's tale.

Lastly, I tend to think that people who read books often don't separate their own views or experience from that of the book, or the characters in the book (perhaps I myself demonstrate this above!) Societal context, readers reactions, facts about the author etc always come in and influence their view of the book. In saying that, I really think there's something to be said for trying hard to read the book as it is. And reading Holden as he is -- a 16 year old boy.

Kathy Highlow,

If I accept (*solely* for the sake of argument) that angst is biological/hormonal, I would simply say that an exploration of the biological/hormonal features of our existence doesn't make for great art.

When was the last time you read a great novel that centered on PMS, for instance?

message 18: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam I disagree. Though I am young and understand what Holden is saying though i do not personally feel that way myself I know many people that are around his age and view the world just the same. While yes, you do want to slap Holden and make him realize how messed up his way of thinking is, it is similiar to how a kid of his age would think. And that is why it is such a literary masterpiece. The fact that most of you loved it as a kid of that age and admired him greatly prooves this. J.D. Salinger's ability to grasp teenage ignorance is amazing. He created a character that teens would admire for his quest against "fakes and phonies". You do not have to agree with Holden's view on the world most adults wouldn't.but msot adults think taht a teens way of thinking is immature as well. The fact is he is 16. And he is a very believeable character, if he were not he would not anger you so much. When you are 16 you're ignorant. but ignorance is bliss, right?

message 19: by Z (new) - rated it 2 stars

Z I agree with most of your review. I am glad to have found someone who doesn't romanticize Holden Caulfield. I am 18 years old and I read the book this year, and I must say that Holden Caulfield annoys me. He takes so many things in his life for granted and he makes himself seem like a victim (which is not entirely true). As a teenager, I dislike Holden Caulfield.

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I neither liked nor disliked Caulfield when I read it, about age 18 I guess. However, it spoke to me. I was gripped by the first person, conversational style, the New York setting and the cliff edge analogy. It was also nice and slim and had an unusal silver cover. I kind of stood out back in the 70s when I read it.

Kelly I also gave the book 2 stars, but it's been years since I've read it. I was a teenager at the time, I'm pretty sure, but I just didn't connect with Caulfield then. Maybe it's because I've always been better-adjusted than he appears to be. I just didn't care all that much about his trials; I couldn't identify at all. It might be that this book should be considered "great literature" because Salinger has so accurately climbed into the mind of an angst-ridden teenager and shown us a bit of what that life can be like. I just don't care. It doesn't move me. I think, even at my first reading, I also felt a bit like smacking Caulfield and saying, "Get over it, already." I was bored by most of my reading experience and have never been able to grasp why it keeps showing up at the top of lists of the greatest American literature. I guess most people were more angsty in their teens than I was. Meh.

message 22: by Lia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lia I just finished reading this book, and really liked it even though it troubled me quite a bit. I felt sad for Holden, because with every page it was like watching him slowly spiral down to something horrible. Most of you seem quite annoyed by this kid and his problems, but as petty as they may be compared to others, they are HIS problems and it doesn't make them any easier. Just as typical as teenage angst may be doesn't mean it's not hard. Then again, maybe I'd feel differently when I'm 30 or something, because right now as a 16 years old, I just want to save Holden Caufield.

message 23: by Mpc1 (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mpc1 Kathy,

Your review was really insightful and I enjoyed reading it, even though I disagree with your final assesment. I'm glad someone else mentioned Roger Ebert and "The Graduate" because that was the first thing I thought about. Roger had a change of heart about Benjamin just like you had for Holden.

I read "The Catcher in the Rye" at a young age and I loved it. I read it again in my early twenties and I still loved it from start to finish. For me it was still a perfect representation of a boys adolescence, still sad and funny. At 35 I hope I never become so entrenched in adulthood that the confusion experienced by Holden (or Benjamin) looses it's resonance. I don't want to smack Holden because I understand that he's a kid experiencing his first glimpse of adulthood and the pain and fear that come with it. I hope I always remember that. I don't feel the need for distance between Salinger and Holden, because personally I think that's peaking behind the curtain and spoiling the show. It borders on intelectual pretense. Like the book or don't like the book, but qualifying your dislike with Salinger's 'lack of distance' smacks of fishing for bullet points for your English 101 term paper. You can hate Holden just for being annoying.

Anyway, I felt bad for Roger Ebert when he lost his connection with "The Graduate" because it seemed like he just lost connection with a younger part of himself. I don't intend to glorify adolescent malaise, or Holden's immaturity and confusion, but I respond to Salinger's portrayal for exactly what it is; a beautiful story of the sad transition out of childhood.

In summary Kathy, great review, but I hate to tell you the bad news. The day you stopped loving Holden and all his insecurities was the day you got old. And not in a good way. Say hi to Roger Ebert for me at the old persons convention.

Best Wishes (really),


message 24: by Eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric I had the exact same feelings throughout much of the book when I first read it (that I wanted to slap Holden), but when I read closer I was able to empathize with him, and now I think that this is one of my favorite books yet.

He internalizes all of his guilt/anger for "letting" Allie die, for letting him fall over the cliff from the field of rye. It's fascinating/painful/terribly relateable to me.

I still hated him through much of the book for being a complete a** to everyone. He's by no means a hero or role model, even for those feeling angsty. He's just one of those characters that hits so close to home for so many people. He's one of those characters that sets off the "I hate you but I feel your pain and I want to help you" impulse. Same with the story. I just absolutely loved it. But I respect your opinion.

Angie Bravo, Kathy. I think I've read Catcher approximately 3 times in the last 15 years or so and I've never understood why 'everyone' seems to find it so appealing. You've articulated many of my reasons for disliking the book. Thanks for writing this.

message 26: by ~M~ (new) - rated it 1 star

~M~ This was a much more articulate way of saying what I said in my review, which was that at 40 years old, I just couldn't stand the whining.

message 27: by Mpc1 (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mpc1 it's possible that you don't know how to empathize with a character who is unlike yourself, which is a good skill to have when reading books. Holden may whine a lot but that's a part of adolescence. There are a lot of things we tell children that aren't true and they begin to realize that in their adolescence. Holden is realizing that a lot of the things that defined his childhood are "lies"; they don't pertain to the adult world. So he's trying to reject it, which of course he can't. If you read the book at a younger age and identified with Holden, then read it again in your 40's and couldn't, it may be because all the things he's discovering are apparent to you now. In my opinion the book can still be enjoyed for what it is though, and for what it meant to you at one time, because it is still a beautiful book about adolescence.

If Holden's whining gets to you just put the book down for a few minutes and remind yourself that maybe you shared his confusion at one point...a long, long, long time ago.

Patrick Of course we are no longer going to see the world as Holdan views it, but this is for the same reason that most parents with teenagers feel that they would like to take their kids by the collar at times and shake them really, really hard. Most of us, if we are truly honest, can say that we have evoked that reaction from our own parents at least once as teenagers.

For all of his whining and bashing of phonies, Holdan Caulfield is truly the biggest phony of them all. This was most likely Salinger's intention from the very beginning. As readers we are not supposed to champion this character. We are meant to pity him for his youthful ignorance and rebellious cries for help. If there is any doubt as to this being Salinger's intention we only have to look to the fact that even most of the secondary characters in the novel are barely able to tolerate Holdan and his antics. It says a lot that with no real friends, he is forced to turn to his younger sister for comfort. Truly, he is little more than a bitter loaner who is masking his inability to find his place in society with rebellious angst.

The sheer genius of this novel is that the character of Holden Caulfield is what he claims to be from the very beginning, a great liar. Had I read this novel as a teenager I am sure that I would have missed all of the subtle nuances, much like you did at sixteen. However, as an adult, who is able to see through the veil of Holdan's bravado, it becomes clear that J. D. Salinger has created a first person narrator that is not to be trusted. This is what makes the novel so brilliant. He has not written the character as a hero, but instead he has made him an antihero.

Ginny your review made me wondering.I'm afraid when I get older will I be thinking the same as you?then I would be too sorry for myself,because if it happens,I know I've become a phony,one that Holden despises,one that I've always despised since I've become a young adult.

message 30: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Strange - my reaction (in similar reading circumstances) was the opposite. I read it as a teenager and hated Caulfield (probably because as an idealistic kid I was surrounded by similar characters among my peers who were pretentious and cynical about everything). Then I read it again a few years ago (I'm in my 40s) and realised what a sensitive portrait it was of a damaged child.

message 31: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Lotzer wow...0_0 you went on a rampage didn't you? anyway,so do you recommened it for a 15 year old girl?

Becky Patrick, I completely agree with you. I think, Kathy, that you have missed the subtleties where Salinger exposes the hypocrisy and futility of Holden's attitude and behaviour. I certainly did not read it as a teenager's manifesto - simply a sad story about a traumatized kid who cannot make meaningful connections with the world because of his self-imposed isolation.

message 33: by TAB (new) - rated it 4 stars

TAB "It suggests a grasp of society and of human nature that's about as complex as an episode of Dawson's Creek"

Glorious stuff, I can't wait till I'm forty and read this book. I will then make my adolescent son suffer through a season of Dawson's Creek as punishment.

message 34: by Katie (last edited Aug 23, 2010 12:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katie I find it strange that you think Holden is representative of many teenagers, or that many teenagers are ignorant. In my opinion, the only thing you manage to prove in your review is that many adults are self-righteous and think just because they have been around a few more years, that they magically know everything. I don't relate to Holden, nor do I know any other teenagers who do. You should really take the story at face value and stop generalising people.

Robert Any novel that inspires you to want to "marry" or "spank" its fictional characters deserves more than two stars...

You do not like this novel because Holden's narrative is not self-aware, but that is precisely it's strength. Holden is a rich kid who runs away from a predicament...and we get a slice of his immature experience on paper.

You seem to be blaming a successful novel for the bad readings kids may have of it...maybe kids are romantic and that's what you don't like.

Sammy Kathy, I like your review for its thoughtfulness and it is definitely a strong argument you have against the book.

I instinctively disagree with you - and I am not sure if it is on rational or emotional grounds. Certainly, those of us who have struggled to adapt to the adult existence will continue to be attached to the book and bristle at criticism of it. After all, in our drifting, ineffectual lives, criticism of Catcher in the Rye is criticism of us. This is what you are contending with when you challenge the book.

However, I will try to discuss the book rationally - because this is the only way of being objective. I will leave my personal parallels with Holden outside, if I can.

As commentators above have said, arguably, Kathy, your gripe is against interpreration of the book and not the book itself. I think JD Salinger makes it quite obvious that Holden is not a hero. He calls people phoney - and then acts phoney himself. He lies compulsively, often in pretty bad taste. He is a hypocrite, lambasting movies and yet revealing that he often watches them. He hates Ackley's personality but then acts similarly obnoxious with Stradlater.

Salinger makes it obvious that Holden is confused and disturbed, so I don't think he was holding up the character as an ideal. The only problem is, disillusioned kids and adults selectively read the book and decide that Salinger is writing about an elite individual who can see through the falsity of the world.

I admit, when I read the book when I was younger, I felt smug. I was an outsider, confused and lonely, and, in my pained spite, I read from the book that I was like Holden, superior to the mainstream. Now when I read the book, however, I don't feel this - even though I believe in the book. Now, I see how confused and hopeless Holden's situation is. He does have insights, he is innocent and decent - but, equally, there are many things wrong with him. The saddest thing is that the book offers no solution to the problem.

I think Salinger was writing as honestly, thoughtfully and personally as he could in this book. He knew that Holden was terribly flawed - just as he thinks society is flawed - and therefore, I do not believe that there is any kind of emotional bigotry in his writing. The bigotry comes in the self-centred interpretation of the book.

Was Salinger conscious that Holden might be interpreted as a champion of the vain disaffected? Should he have bowed to human weakness and put in a disclaimer in the book saying something like: "Warning, please note, Holden is a hypocrite and horribly flawed - as well as being a decent soul...?" In Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky admits that the Underground Man's position of hapless superiority is "spiteful" - but Dostoesky was writing through a narrator looking back on his youth. Holden is still in the furnace as he looks back.

M.moore Chrissakes, you phonies miss the point. This book is ultimately about trauma and psychosis. Eh why do you think he left the foils on the train?

message 38: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted I agree. I thought this book was about a kid who was stuck in the anger stage of the grieving process over the death of his younger brother. He's spiraling down the drain, not understanding what's happening to him. My heart goes out to him. Maybe compassion and the internet don't mix.

I would like to know why you think he left the foils on the train.

message 39: by Esk (new) - rated it 5 stars

Esk What I gained from the book (and I'm sure Salinger would more than happily agree with me if he were still alive)was the negatives of society, and how rather than a plot and a good read book. It was and still is a satire based on society then, and even more relevant what society is still now. And instead of writing this book for a pleasure read, it's a way to express what's going on in society. And by picking Holden, a sixteen year old kid, it would right away interest the younger generation, who will be the ones able to change the atrocities of life and the ever useless societal standards.

message 40: by Erik (new)

Erik Skaldeman Holden Caulfield is actually a genuinely sophisticated character. You might have a very optimistic view on society for some reason, but Holden doesn't and for that you call him disillusioned. Holden belongs to a rare group of people that could be called civilised human beings. He reflects intelligently upon an uncivilised world. At its core, the book illustrates his ability to think on his own. That's an exceptional thing to be able to do. Most people can't do it.
The fact that he overuses the word "phoney" a lot simply makes him a more believable character. He is a bit impulsive, but he is incredibly observant, more so than most people. As it says somewhere early in the book, "People never notice anything."
If you were as observant as him, you'd probably agree.
Maybe you think he should stop complaining and accept that things are as they are, but the thing is, that's not the point of the book. It's meant to question everything that is, in one way or another, unsympathetic.

Most people can't think on their own and the ones who can, become outsiders. I was a loner in school, I always thought all my classmates were mean and stupid. It felt like I wasted my childhood going to school with them. They would most likely have agreed with your opinion on Holden Caulfield.
I think you're too stuck on the surface of the book. If you read between the lines you will hopefully realise that Holden is, at heart, simply a civilised individual in an uncivilised society.

Hetal Agree with you kathy

message 42: by Eoin (new) - rated it 3 stars

Eoin I have to respectfully disagree, Kathy. I think what you’ve done is a bit like criticising the movie Downfall by pointing out that Hitler wasn’t a very nice person. In my opinion, Holden Caulfield is never presented as anything other than a confused, dopey adolescent. He's sincere in his way, but I never felt I was supposed to be impressed by him. Having said that, it's been a while since I read it.

Courtney You seem to be missing the point as much as the people who think that Holden Caulfield sees things as they really are. Holden is meant to be an unreliable narrator who sees things in a skewed way because he is depressed and in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Many adolescents in particular don't interpret the book as coming from the perspective of a highly unreliable narrator who doesn't really see things as they are because they're also feeling the same thing. You can't blame the book for that. It doesn't mean it's a bad book, it's just a book that people read very differently depending on their own situation.

Mariam I think you might have misinterpreted it as a teen

Chaitanya the book is about Holden Caulfield.. its not just about him but more precisely its about BEING Holden Caulfield.. feel HIM inside you.. dont look at it from the point of view of a 40 year old woman(now maybe 43)..
now think like this.. what would have happened if you would have fulfilled you desire of marrying Holden Caulfield & such other desire which you must have had as a teenage girl?(its just like "what would have happened if Holden Caulfield would not have returned home in the end due to Phoebe)
the book should reignite the flame which was there in you as a teenage girl..
i just mean to say that don't dislike the book just because you like it less now than you liked it as a 16 year old girl..
& i am 18 right now(better to clarify).. & i have 2 options right in front of me.. either i can live my life like you & most of the other people(& then dislike this book at the age of 40) or i can choose to live like Holden Caulfield all my life(& then finally say,"Hey fellas, i am the Catcher in the rye!!!")

Elena I know right! Did Holden learn ANYTHING from his experiences? I have to say phoebe was my favorite character because she has SENSE. And also I get how people have catchphrases, I do, I say "and stuff" quite a bit. But Holden says "goddamn" in just about every sentence!! It was sorta funny at first but after the first chapter or so it just got obnoxious. This is not a coming of age story, Holden still is as immature as ever.

Melissa Holden's immaturity is what made him Holden. He openly stated, during the scene where his old teacher was fondling him, that he was touched a dozen times when he was a child. Maybe he doesn't WANT to grow up in a world that's so unforgiving and unsafe. Does anyone?

message 48: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam poignant and accurate review. Was a pleasure to read.

Lewis Allen You missed the point of this novel.

Colby At 17, I want to hit Holden Caulfield with a waffle iron.

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