Trust me, till I was done with three quarters of this book, I wasn’t really too impressed. I would have given it 3 stars at most and not think about recommending it to anybody. I mean, I could relate to Holden’s angst at the hypocrisy of adults, the painful small talk of all the “phony” people around, the failure of religion to answer his questions, his aimlessness, his feelings of not being perturbed if he were to die the next moment, his disenchantment with society or rather ‘adults’ in general(which I came to understand much later, when I understood how pregnant with meaning the ‘museum’ reference was) but it struck me as the usual identity-moral-spiritual crisis of a regular teenager. Only, I didn’t expect Salinger to deal with it the way he did. This is to tell you, obviously, that the last 70 pages or so are what make this book what it is. A classic.
Alright, coming back, I have been through it all, and the part about society, hypocrisy (add to that injustice) is still there. But I have also come to see some of the brighter side of it so that going on in this world doesn’t appear as worthless as it used to. So, Holden, in spite of flashes of his ‘genuineness’ and ‘beautiful’ heart and need to “like a lot” the girl he was supposed to go physical with and his ‘love’ for his dead brother Allie and his views on his elder brother D.B ‘selling his writing talent to the hollywood’ and thereby becoming a prostitute, was still not something of a hero to me. I was afraid the writer was going to offer some kind of a rosy ending that all coming-of-age movies/stories have, all the time expecting Salinger to prescribe some quick-fix solution and almost ‘knowing’ that Holden was going to be ‘lost’ to the ‘society’.
Things changed the moment I came across the poignant part where Holden sneaks in to see his kid sister Phoebe in case he died of pneumonia and spends some touching moments. This was when I realised the meaning of ‘The catcher in the rye’ for the first time. I had to go through the paragraph quite a few times and it immensely helped that this was when the real meaning behind the ‘museum’ reference opened itself to me in an ‘aha’ moment. I felt like I had been stabbed, a painfully beautiful sensation throbbing inside me. I instantly knew this wasn’t the kind of guy that would sell his dream to fit in.
I have cried innumerable times while reading romance genre, but this was different. It was such a blend of heart-wrenching and making-your-heart-swell-with-bliss kind of a moment. His desire to protect children from the of loss of innocence, from being exposed to corruption and phoniness of the adults was moving. The line “I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I would really like to be” is, I believe, going to stay with me for a long, long time to come.
Holden’s relationship with his dead brother Allie and his kid sister Phoebe put a smile on my lips more often that I can now enumerate and the ending was just about perfect. What with the desire of not hurting little Phoebe making Holden not leaving his home made it touching. That Holden ended up in some kind of a mental asylum only adds to the depth of the story that ‘The catcher in the rye’ turned out to be.
It is an eloquent example of how most of those depressed are actually the ones who have eyes to notice and brains to think about the madness or as Holden would put it, the ‘phoniness’ all around. That teenage is a transition period when the big, bad ‘real’ world comes to clash with the idealism of our childhood gives it its tumultuous nature. Too bad that most of the teens give up their ‘changing the world’/’changing the society’ dreams and go for mindless conformity in the name of ‘growing up’. Making peace with the world is costly that ways, and according to me, not worth it. Selling your soul to fit yourself in the society, that is.
I’m just about to step out of teenage and no, I don’t intend being assigned to a mental asylum. One just needs to look hard enough to find something, in this very society, worth living for. As Victor E. Frankl would have put it, figuring out some ‘meaning’. And holding fast to it. Even if that is being something as idealistic as ‘The catcher in the rye.’
Holden, I swear, is now one of my favourite characters. And I really don’t care how many brickbats this gets me now. The loneliness, the pathos, the grace with which he kept it all inside, the purity of his heart, the intellect, the honesty, all make him one well worth reading over and over again.
It is only the cussing that would make it difficult for me to reread it though, and also to give it 5 stars. I know it being a teenager’s narrative(and an American teenager’s), cussing is supposed to be a part and parcel of it, but if something made this book, at many a times “a royal pain in the a**”, it was all the swearing that went around in each and every sentence. After all there is only a certain number of times u can use those words without making it leave a bad taste in the mouth.
A swell read, on the whole. Everyone disenchanted with the goings-on around must read it though I doubt if a grown up person can really like it as much as a teenager would. I would myself like to read it 20 years on and see what I feel about the book, its writer and this review.