“You’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now.”
The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden, an incredibly layered and complex character that hides behind a facade to avoid dealing with the personal troubles he faces. This intricately crafted facade makes for a character that evokes complex feelings from a reader, with his actions sometimes evoking empathy and other times hatred. Holden is therefore flawed and relatively unlikable, but this does not mean that the narrative and plot are similarly unlikable. The seeming lack of plot is no flaw, rather it allows for Salinger to provide a deep exploration of mental illness, grief, innocence v. adulthood and adolescence through this struggling teenage mind. This is all implemented brilliantly, making for a novel that is interesting to read, particularly from a critical perspective.
The prose and language used in this novel are vital to the representation of Holden coming to terms with his identity. Passive and repetitive language is used throughout the entirety of this novel not only as a means of creating a certain level of distance between the Holden and the reader, but also to emphasize the distance between himself and the emotions he is struggling with. This distance is a means of Holden hiding his emotions from the reader and himself, which subsequently creates a clear imbalance in the intensity of his explanations of things. The most important aspects of his life are mentioned briefly if mentioned at all, while other seemingly unnecessary things are described thoroughly and repetitively. It is the lack of information regarding the events most important to Holden’s life that help us as readers to understand why he is the way he is and how lost he truly is. We see that he is lost as the narrative progresses not through his telling us so, but through his actions. He seems to drift from one friend to another, one teacher to another, with no real aim– simultaneously reflecting his struggle in identity and the subsequent need to distance himself from this struggle as a means of coping with it.
The aforementioned struggle with identity is closely linked to the exploration of Holden’s mental health. Here he deliberately refrains from outwardly explaining just how bad his mental health has become, and again we see it more in the subtle ways it is weaved into the narration and his thought process. The subtly of these statements perhaps reflects his unwillingness to recognize the severity of the grief that he seems unable to move past concerning the death of his brother Allie. Interestingly, the reality of Allie having died seems about the only thing the reader can be sure of, with Holden’s facade and reluctance to share the true nature of his mindset rendering him a relatively unreliable narrator. However, underneath this unreliable narration and facade, we see a boy that is simply grieving for his brother and perhaps tackling events from his childhood that are too painful for him to explain in his narrative.
Allie is not the only thing that this character grieves; he also grieves the loss of his childhood. Throughout much of the novel he is seen to ask indirect questions to try to gain answers about an adulthood that he doesn’t understand but is fast approaching all the same. He sees all adults as phony, probably a result of being let down by them time and time again, and in consequence develops an idea that he must do what he can to preserve the innocence of the children around him. Little Phoebe seems to be the only person that truly understands Holden, reinforcing this idea in Holden that he must become the catcher in the rye that protects the children from falling victim to the phoniness of adulthood. This is fundamental to the whole novel, and is the aspect that allows the little development of Holden that we see to take place at the end of the novel. Eventually Holden recognizes that he cannot stop Phoebe from becoming an adult, but the development that comes as a result of this realization is restricted in itself in that he never says this outright, instead speaking only of his realization that he cannot stop her from falling while on the carousel.
Overall, this is a novel that is rich in subtle character exploration and was an incredibly interesting read! I would certainly recommend it to anyone wishing to read this from a critical perspective!
“I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”