Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

"The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause. 
The mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one."
Wilhelm Stekel

This is one of the books you just must read, being a classic. I have had it in my book shelves for many, many years. Now, finally, trying to decrease by TBR shelves I chose this one. I don't really know what I expected, but certainly not this one. I really had no idea what it was about, just that it was supposed to be something out of the extraordinary for the times.

I have to admit that, apart from the last 50 pages or so, I did not like this book. The book, that made Salinger's reputation, is about a generation of high school and college students, here epitomised by Caulfield.  He is 17 going on 18 and lost in this world. He has just been relegated from his school, and we get to know that this is not the first school he has been asked to leave. He skips the last days of school and goes on a voyage, to find himself or what he wants to do. The problem is he does not know.

Most of the book consists of his constant, negative complaints about everyone and everything, and for me it was really difficult to read more than 2-3 chapters at a time. Mainly because you felt he was on a wrong road, you wanted to help him, but there was no way to do it. Probably those people in the book who saw something else in him, trying to put him to the 'right path' felt the same. It was hopeless efforts. Having a teenager at home in the same age, I know it is a difficult age. You finish your studies and you have to leave your childhood and home to go for studies and a future carrier. It is not easy to choose and to know what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Holden's behaviour and rebellion are due to his loneliness, his fear of attachment and sexuality, his fear of growing up and leaving the world he knows. During his weekend voyage he is mostly lonely, and when he is trying to meet friends or people he just happens to run into, he does not manage to attach to them. He is rude and nasty and pushes people away. He does not feel that he belongs to this world, and does not know how to behave in it. His attempts to behave like a grown-up are mostly embarrassing. He wants to be left in his childhood world and does not dare enter into the grown up world. He only connects to children to whom he is very nice, especially his kid sister Phoebe.

The title also gives food for thought. It is a mis-quote of a Robert Burn's poem. Holden interprets it like children playing in a field, although the most common interpretation of the poem is casual sex between two people hiding in the rye. Here is an interesting interpretation of symbolism and actions of the book.

The book catches up - for me - in the end when he goes back to see his kid sister, whom he really loves. This is a turning point and the narration of the book changes here. The whole book is just events over a couple of days, but somehow manages to cover a life time of wisdom. Might there be hope for Holden in the end.

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