I started The Catcher in the Rye and thought “oh great an un-likable narrator”. I really struggle with this kind of book mostly because I’m not a big people person and if someone annoys me I just tend to avoid them. In my opinion life is too short to bother with people you don’t like. Of course you can’t do this with a book so I struggled on and I am glad I did.
Holden Caulfield is your typical whiny, white, middle class, teenager. I would describe him as an insufferable git. This book is him narrating a couple of days of his life after he is expelled from prep-school. He describes everything and everyone he sees with the self absorbed cynicism of every misunderstood teenager. God is it annoying. This guy seriously needs to get over himself. And then it hit me.
It is all a front. Holden Caulfield is a sad, lonely, little boy who doesn’t fit in to the adult world yet and is terrified. He is trying so hard to hide it but deep down he is crying out for help. I knew this book is often studies for its literary prowess and so I decided after I had finished to do a little more analysis and I watched the Crash Course Literature videos on it and it opened my mind completely.
Yes I hate Holden Caulfield but I don’t hate this book. It is genius. Really it is a wonderful example of literature as art making me think and engage in a way that few books do, even of the famous ones on this list. The language is excellent because the slang used is so of its time and simultaneously timeless. It portrays the rebellion, the rejection of convention universal to all teenagers and specific to the teenagers of the fifties. Salinger also has a way of making me empathise with a character I hate which boggles my mind. You know when people tell you bullies are only bullies because they are having a tough time themselves? I always feel this sadness for them which doesn’t stretch to the person themselves but just to the world in general. I feel a bit like that about Holden. He has everything and nothing. He should be grateful and humble but he isn’t, he’s miserable because material things haven’t made him happy.
I know a lot of people when they read The Catcher in the Rye only see this ‘first world problems’ teenager and dismiss it. But for me it is more profound than that because it is so honest. There are far worse things happening in the world than the problems of Holden Caulfield but he can’t see that and that is what humans are like. We are selfish by nature and it is part of growing up to realise that we need to think of others.
Would recommend to: persevere with it’ll be worth it.