I spent my summer reading a lot of the great American classics. You know, the ones you were supposed to read in high school, but really only read the Cliffs Notes to. It isn’t the same, really. But we were young, and so involved, and everything in the whole world was more important than literature.
So, we have the Catcher in the Rye. Please note that this novel is not about baseball or bread, as one might assume (or as I dimly assumed for many years). It is a story about a young boy, a wandering soul – about expectations, and finding your place in the big nasty world.
Holden Caulfield is a doll, and if he were real, I would pinch his sweet little cheeks. He is an unambitious 16 year-old who has just been kicked out of the prestigious Pencey Prep School in Pennsylvania for flunking four out of his five classes. He is immature yet introspective, and generally, the world annoys, depresses, and bores him.
The story is told by Holden, in his hilarious sarcasm, over the span of a few days in late December. There is no reference within the story to dates, but it was published in 1951, and showcases a lot of the styles and lingo of the time.
The plot is simple: Holden has “gotten the ax” from school, and “his father is going to kill him.” This is the fourth school Holden has flunked out of. But this story is about so much more than plot. The value is found in relating to his character, and maybe remembering the first time you realized how “phony” the world was.
The Catcher in the Rye is beautifully written; it is, after all, a classic. The narrative flows smoothly from one scene to the next, as if you were writing the story in your own head as it went. Holden Caulfield is timeless. He is each of our little brothers, he is pieces of ourselves, but caught in his own inimitable fate.
But what we really want to know is why this wonderful novel has been linked to murderers? And does this mean that if I carry the novel around with me in the pocket of a trench coat, I am likely to kill someone? Probably not, huh?
Laura Rae Amos