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The Book Club

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye

1. Short, sharp and sweet. Within a storyline span of less than a week – through Holden Caulfield’s perspectives, the reader gets an exclusive insight into his entire life, especially with his frequent and random references to individuals and events. It all seems extremely haphazard and incongruent, but somehow it all falls into place with his life experiences coming together collectively. He is it. The novel is quintessentially a tale of his world, his exploits, his happiness, his frustrations, his grievances et cetera. I guess the attraction of the novel for me is the little nuances the traits of Caulfield that feels very familiar; stages and opinions that I have contemplated before in my life through the transitional stages from childhood or adolescence to adulthood, and traits that I may have exhibited in my personal interactions and exchanges.

2. Frustration with the constraints of his education. I had a good laugh when Caulfield was explaining the “Oral Expression” course he had at Pencey Prep to Mr. Antolini. I think I could relate to the rigidity – and lack of creativity – in some of the educational approaches that some educators choose to undertake. While the traditional emphasis of education should still remain on the honing of skills and transfer of knowledge, teachers should never neglect the growth of the student as an individual. I felt for Richard Kinsella when he had his classmates yelling “digression” indiscriminately while he was sharing about aspects of his personal life. The lack of true interactivity and discussion renders the classroom a dull and unconstructive platform for teaching-learning to truly take root.

3. Mr. Antolini’s advice on academic education. “But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they’re brilliant and creative to begin with … tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative … something else an academic education will do for you … if you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have”. Personally, I was considerably disillusioned with my own education, but I do accept the point that regardless of the pedantic approaches and rote memorisation, I did emerge with a better comprehension of my abilities and degree of learning through school.

4. Hypocrites and “phonies“. Caulfield does engage in forms of lying and deception (with much ease, as he is extremely proud of), but he does show the awareness and understanding that he is equally guilty of being a “phony” as the others whom he criticise. Whether he believes it is right or wrong – or somewhere in the middle – is another question altogether. Perhaps the degree of “phoniness” in the adult world is an excuse for him to be one and fit in; though eventually the readers realise that he continually slips back to his comfort zone of isolation. Nonetheless, he rightfully spurns Maurice and Sunny, who are phonies in their intentions and evil in their actions.

5. Curiosity towards sex. As it is with most growing teenagers, sex is one of the many fascinations that Caulfield actively discusses and explores in the novel; though it is interesting to note that despite his interests and actions, he never does engage in acts of intercourse throughout the course of his narrative.

6. Sense of subtle isolation with his friends and acquaintances; closeness and attachment to his family. It seems interesting to be because Caulfield is mostly comfortable with his counterparts and the people around him, but he is more often than not very insecure about himself: his identity and his place in the grand scheme of things. His narrative shows him to be very conscious of his actions and responses towards others, but his inner struggles reflect a more vulnerable side to his character. He engages in a great degree of self-assurance and reassurance continuously, and to a certain extent engages his alienation to protect himself from peripheral pressures and influences. His red hunting hat – unusual in appearance and outlandish in its presentation – represents this conundrum between the need for isolation and companionship; though it can be safely asserted that Caulfield shows genuine affection for Phoebe, because of their relationships and also because of her supposed innocence and purity as a child.

7. Bad financial knowledge and management. With his little reserves of cash resources, he is terrible in this area of fiscal awareness; within a few days of expenses he ran so low on dough that he even had to borrow from Phoebe nearing the end of the novel. However, his imperfections in these areas make it easier for readers to relate to his struggles, and similarly comprehend his difficult transitions and interactions.

8. Youthful bravado and impromptu desires and aspirations. Just think about how he suddenly, out-of-the-blue, asked Sally Hayes whether she wanted to drive up together to Massachusetts or Vermont to get married and live simply in a cabin. He had vague plans, short on details, and only had a very little sum of money. In another form of interpretation, this plan could be seen as a desire for permanent companionship, and longing desire to escape the growth to adulthood.

9. Well-directed moral compass. In the midst of all the lying, deception and “phoniness”, Caulfield does have his moments when he reveals that he is not entirely corrupted by the supposed evil of the adult world. When he has a brief conversation with two nuns over breakfast, he shows great attentiveness in helping them and considerable generosity in donating ten dollars for a good cause; and is aware of his action of smoking that might have negated the wonderful interaction.

10. Catcher in the rye. “If a body catch a body … I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff … I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them … I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


2 thoughts on “J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye

  1. Thanks for that, you’ve made some very insightful observations. The thing I really enjoy about ‘Catcher in the Rye‘ is how like you said, he recognizes the phoniness in everything and he looks at himself as really not utterly corrupt. That balance is what makes the book so complex. I couldn’t figure out the title at first since I hadn’t read any of Burns’ works but then I read the poem at Shmoop and the explanation for the title and a whole other layer of complexity was revealed. The Catcher is protecting the children from the adult world. Holden himself was once falling and caught by his sister. He is amused when he hears children sing this rhyme because it’s basically a child saying that casual sex is ok and without even knowing it the child’s innocence is being ravaged. The Catcher realizes that he cannot catch them at all.

    Posted by Mobb Young | September 17, 2010, 6:17 pm


  1. Pingback: Expletives, Profanities And Singaporeans: Why Fucking Bother? « guanyinmiao's musings - August 8, 2011

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