The Catcher in the Rye
Rated as one of Americas top 100 novels as of 1923 onwards, The Catcher in the Rye was available in print in the year 1951. The novel primarily targeted an adult audience, but with time in accordance to societal changes, it became a read-time favorite among the young generation. Perhaps the upsurge in the teenagers’ interests was because the book mainly focused on the primary premise of teen uncertainty brought about by the physical, emotional, psychological and social changes experienced in this developmental stage. Having established a strong foundation, the writer goes ahead to portray the issues that hoard the protagonist’s life: identity crisis and sexuality (Kallen, 2001). In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, Holden, the main character, struggles with his problems and often thinks the world is against him.
This can be easily seen by conducting a character analysis of Holden in this paper. His academics, social demeanor, stand on sex, and lonesome life, generally summarize the problems that Holden faces. His life is cluttered with mishap after mishap and nothing seems to go his way. At the onset of the novel, the reader is introduced to general facts about the narrator, who happens to be a young lad at the prime of his teenage-hood and whose age is sixteen. Holden does not give intricate details concerning his surroundings and his life but hints that it is a sanatorium where he is being treated. His story revolves around his life’s happenings that are set between the end term period and Christmas holiday. As the Pencey Prep School fall sessions end on a Saturday morning, Holden is charged with poor performance that leaves him served with an expulsion notice. Out of his five academic units, Holden has only passed in one: English. “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot,” (Salinger 18). Even more worrying is the fact that Pencey has just earned himself a suspension from his fourth school. Before leaving school, Holden visits the ailing Mr. Spencer, who is the history teacher. He gets such a tongue lash from the teacher on his poor results that he leaves the premises infuriated. Holden is brought out just as any other typical teenager in the way that he bases his decisions on emotions.
However, his problems follow him right to his room, as he is further infuriated by the unsanitary living environment imposed by his dirty neighbor. Holden’s roommate does not help the situation when he and Jane, Holden’s ex girlfriend, go for a date. With his judgmental nature, Holden cannot bring himself to sleep; not with the plaguing thoughts that Stradlater and Jane have not returned from their date. It is noteworthy that, throughout the novel, Holden is always criticizing people from an introspective perspective. It is quite clear that Holden still harbors intimate feelings towards Jane. Holden frets over the idea that the two may have had sex and upon Stradlater’s return, he bombards him with the topic. His roommate mocks him on the subject leading to a fight in which Holden earns a bloodied nose. Unable to take in his problems anymore, Holden decides to be home bound three days in advance. He also decides on traveling to Manhattan, his home city, without notifying his parents with the plan of spending his extras days in a hotel. During his journey, Holden meets a woman who identifies herself as a parent to a student in Pencey. This takes him aback since he had always considered the student as a bastard that he ends up lying to the woman about her son’s school reputation to deal with his guilt. “Then I started reading this timetable I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it,” (Salinger 58).
Upon checking into a suitable hotel, he starts observing fellow boarding guests in the overlooking rooms. The first who is a man dresses up as a woman, while the second room has a couple that seems to derive pleasure from each spewing out drinks on their partner’s face. Holden believes that the couple is having a sexual play and the mere thought arouses him while at the same time emitting feelings of disgust, probably because he is easily carried away by sexual matters. To deal with this, Holden reverts to a smoking ordeal after which he calls up a stranger whose number and name he got from an old friend. His reason for calling up Faith is to get a sexual favor as he recalls that she may be a stripper. Faith turns down his proposal for the urgent meeting but offers to do so the following day. Holden is irritated by Faith’s response as he feels that his sexual escapade cannot be held for that long. He hangs up without any further words and finds his way into the hotel’s bar for a drink. This too fails as the waiter declines his order after noting that he is a juvenile.
Being an optimistic individual, Holden does not let this get him down as he opts to try his luck at the flirting game. He identifies three women whose ages he approximates as the thirties. In addition to this, he holds the view that they are not New York dwellers and that they have come to the town with the sole purpose of spotting celebrities. This time, he gets his way through and manages to dance with the women but decides that he loves the blonde-haired one owing to her dancing prowess. As usual and in a bid to hide his real persona, he cheats on his age, pays for the women’s drinks and then leaves (Beidler, 2008). Perhaps due to the loneliness that suddenly engulfs him, Holden plays back the intimate memories that he had with Jane from their first meeting that was in a vacation. With a lot of nostalgia, he recounts how they played games together, locked hands while watching films, and the first time he cuddled and actually kissed her. Another thing to note about Holden is that he is quite unlucky with any physical or verbal engagement he gets involved in.
The next day Holden decides to visit a jazz club. He finds an empty table and adopts his usual judgmental attitude as he scrutinizes his environment with contempt. His stay at the club is short-lived as he takes leave upon encountering an ex-lover of his big brother. On his return to his room, Maurice, a worker, makes small talk with him and recommends a harlot for a subsidized fee of five dollars. Holden accepts the offer and in a few minutes, a lady checks into his room and strips bare. Ironically, her move has a numbing effect on Holden and his sexual appetite hits rock bottom. Worse still, is the fact that the woman has already parched herself neatly on his thigh trying to arouse him with dirty talk. Holden regresses to his lies as he argues that his reason for not being able to have sex is due to a recent operation. “If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet,” (Salinger 92). After settling her dues and sending her off, she comes back accompanied by Maurice and the pair demands double pay for the trouble caused. Holden refuses to top up giving Maurice an excuse of punching him. As he hits the floor, the woman reaches for his wallet and extracts five dollars from it. Holden calls it a night and settles in his bed. Holden’s decision of sex is the first positive thing he does with his life. However, he is disgusted with himself because even though he does not approve of premarital sex practices, he still ends up getting aroused or putting himself on tests he cannot handle (Reiff, 2008).
Upon waking up, he communicates with Sally, another of his former lovers, and he manages to get a date. He then proceeds to get a morning snack where he meets two nuns. As they eat breakfast, the trio deliberates on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. After the brunch, Holden exits and tries to reach Jane via phone. Jane’s mother answers and this forces him to hang up without any response. He then heads for his sister’s favorite playground only to learn that she is in the museum. Convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Phoebe could not be at the museum, he still decides to check it out, but he changes his mind after getting to the place and hikes a cab to meet his date. The date rolls off well but Holden gets angry at the end when he sees Sally conversing with another man. The two then head for a skating experience and indulge into a conversation afterwards. Holden enlightens Sally of his school mishap and suggests that they elope to another city for a fresh start. Sally turns down his offer and leaves. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody,” (Salinger 214). He then remembers Jane, calls her again and this time gets no answer. For the first time in the novel, Holden then calls up a male friend named Luce and they meet for a few rounds of drinks.
Being a little tipsy, Holden makes irritating remarks about his friend’s girlfriend and the homosexual community that Luce ends up leaving early. Holden gets himself drunk silly, calls up Sally and ventures off in the cold night to look for the park he used to sit in as a young kid and watch ducks swim. After locating it, he sneaks into their residence and further into Phoebe’s room and he wakes her up. Seeing his sister melts his heart and he shares with her the news of his expulsion and tries to justify it with his disinterest in schooling. Phoebe reprimands him and dismisses his excuse by reminding him that he never showed interest in anything. Holden ignores his sister’s remarks and tell her of his dream of becoming “…the catcher in the rye and all,” (Salinger 173). Holden calls his English instructor and enquires for some sleeping room. Upon his arrival, the teacher brings up the issue of his expulsion and offers him advice concerning his life. As Holden is very sleepy, the teacher excuses him. When he wakes up, he finds the towering figure of his host above him while he is caressing his forehead. Holden perceives this as a sexual move and he abruptly departs and opts to sleep on a railway bench.
In the morning, he proceeds to his sister’s school and leaves a note with the message that during her lunch break they should meet since he was planning to see her for the last time before he left home permanently. His sister then avails herself for the meeting with a big suitcase in tow. Holden reprimands her and refuses to take her on his journey upon her insistence that they leave together. She starts sobbing and he takes her to a nearby park for an experience on the carousel. As she enjoys her ride, a heavy downpour sets in but Holden sits still in the rain captivated by Phoebe’s happiness that he is moved to the point of tears. As he concludes, Holden hints to the reader that he returns home, is taken ill but seeks to skirt out a possible sixth school for both his educational and future’s sake. Up until the ending, Holden is depicted as a flat character, never learning nor changing in his decision-making. However, his optimistic attitude makes him decide to turn on a better leaf by seeking therapy for his addiction to smoking and probably identity crisis depicting some positive change on his part.
Beidler, Peter. A Reader’s Companion to J.D. Salinger’s the Catcher in the Rye. New York: Coffeetown Press, 2008. Print.
Kallen, Stuart. Understanding The catcher in the rye. New Jersey: Lucent Books, 2001. Print.
Reiff, Raychel. J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye and Other Works. London: Marshall Cavendish, 2008. Print.
Salinger, Jerome. The catcher in the rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 2001. Print.