What is it about The Catcher in the Rye

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The Catcher in the Rye

Have you ever read a book which is supposedly a work of great classic fiction only to think, what a complete load of utter pig swill (got to keep this post clean)? Have you ever questioned the sanity of those who consider such novels to be great works? Like, what were they smoking to think this deserves great merit as a work of literary genius? Over my rather short but rather prolific reading life, I’ve often come across these “great literary works” only to be disappointed in them. But, my problem is I don’t question the sanity of those that consider these works great; I question my own sanity for thinking they’re not. 

When I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time, I found myself figuratively feeling my head and wondering if there was something seriously wrong with me because, frankly, I didn’t get it. I didn’t quite get what was so important about the ramblings of a teenage boy, who (in my opinion) was nothing more than bratty, snotty and downright lazy. And yet, it did seem as though I was missing something extremely important that would change the way I thought. So, feeling like I was definitely missing something and when I found I had more reading time on my hands, I picked up The Catcher in the Rye again, and decided that this time I would try and grasp the meaning behind it.

Holden Caulfield has many problems: he’s mourning one brother and missing another; he despises school and has just been expelled from another one; everyone is on his case to try harder; he’s battling to find people he can relate to and he lives in a world full of phony people.  But, as Holden navigates the treacherous world of New York City, killing time before he can safely return to his parents without incurring their wrath, he learns a little about himself and the people in his life. Will Holden learn to trust more and try harder to become a better person?

Movie Magic:

The Catcher in the Rye is what one might class as a social commentary (or more a social criticism) in that the narrator, Holden, tends to spend a lot of time commenting on life in general and reliving his past in his mind. What I am trying to say is, though there is a plot to The Catcher in the Rye, it is not the type of plot that would make a decent movie, in my opinion. I see there is a movie out called The Catcher in the Rye and I’ve seen some of the trailer. But, even the trailer didn’t really interest me. Most of the movie seems to be Holden talking, just talking all the time. Perhaps I’m wrong (and please, if you’ve seen the film, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below) but a movie with not much action and quite a fair amount of rambling talk just doesn’t interest me as much as a beautifully complicated plot full of twists and turns. And The Catcher in the Rye is not the type of book filled with intricate plot twists. Let’s just say, I don’t think I’ll be watching the film version of The Catcher in the Rye any time soon.

In My Humble Opinion:

So, after reading the book for a second time, did I enjoy the book more? Did I understand more about the importance of what it was being said and the way it was being said?

Well, if you will let me, I’d like to answer the second question first. When I first read The Catcher in the Rye I was wholly confused by it. I didn’t really even get the significance of the name. Why was it called “The Catcher in the Rye” anyway. I knew that there was a connection to some sort of song, mentioned in the novel, but I never really understood the implication. This was my mission as I sat down to read the novel for the second time. Why was it called “The Catcher in the Rye”?

If you’re looking for an easy answer, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint. Even after reading through the book, I battled to understand what a little song had to do with the story line of the book. It wasn’t until I did a bit of research that I started finding answers to my confusion. Firstly, I discovered that it was not a song at all but a poem written by a rather well known poet called Robert Burns called “Comin’ through the Rye” but that didn’t really help much other than to confirm that Holden got the words wrong. While he thought that the song/poem was “If a body catch a body” while the actual words are “If a body meet a body”. And while this slip might have further confused me, I was already on the fast track to figuring this title out.  The more I thought about Holden’s own words when he describes what  he wants to be when he grows up, he more I was convinced that I was getting close to the truth.

In the novel, Holden explains that when he grows up,  he wants to be someone who stands at the edge of a cliff as a group of children play a game in the rye field and he wants to be the one to catch them before they fall off the cliff. It seems like a strange thing to want to be when you grow up next to our doctor, nurse, teacher, astronaut or even accountant or lawyer. And, might be construed as a little nonsensical. I mean that’s not even a real profession. But, I was starting to get the picture. Holden wanted to be the one to save children before they fall off the proverbial cliff and land up falling into the phony adult world where no one did or said what they really meant or felt. It’s what Holden hated most (though he truly seems to hate everything, it’s not all the things he hates but what they signify): the world of phony adults – and he tried desperately to avoid truly becoming an adult himself. Holden is desirous to preserve childhood for as long as possible. And a little infograph on the subject confirmed it for me when it said that the title reflects Holden’s desire to preserve innocence.

All the way through the book, while Holden might enjoy smoking and underage drinking (and prolific swearing), he really is just a child. He likes to play around. He likes to imagine. He hates adults and those who truly act like adults. Holden wants to remain a child forever – the eternal youth. And, I think, if you’re ever interested in doing an essay on The Catcher in the Rye, a lot can be gleaned from this one aspect: the theme of eternal innocence and youth. It can be used to explain all the symbols like the ducks and Holden’s hat as well as many of the narrative’s events.

So, now answering the first question: did I enjoy the book the second time? Well, not really. Of course, I understand its significance in classic literature and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in studying literature (for whatever reason). But, there is a great difference between understanding something and liking it. Holden’s attitude to life (not to mention, his prolific swearing) just doesn’t gel wit my values. In short, I get his need for eternal youth but I don’t like the way he tries to keep himself there.

Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? What did you think of the book? Did you understand it? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments section below. And remember to check back at The Challenge page and see if you can beat my reading score. Are you more well-read than I am? Let me know.

Happy Reading!

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