This is the only book I’ve ever read where I didn’t have a clue what it was about before reading. My copy has no dust jacket, no blurb, no synopsis. Which I think is interesting and worth mentioning. It puts you more immediately in the story, I suppose, and you never quite know what to expect.
That being said, I’ll provide a little synopsis here. (I do recommend reading the book first, though, so you can have the same experience I did.) Holden Caulfield doesn’t seem to be good at anything. He’s been thrown out of multiple boarding schools, and as the book starts he’s about to leave another one. Rather than going straight home, however, Holden decides to hole up for a few days in a New York hotel. This is the story of that weekend, and Holden’s journey of self-discovery during that time.
I read this a little while ago, so it’s not as fresh in my mind as my other reviewed books were. So I apologize if this sounds a bit ramble-ish, but I’m just going to go ahead and give you a series of observations I made while reading the book.
The thing that struck me most about Holden is that he’s very confused. He doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, and he doesn’t understand a lot of things about himself and about what he’s supposed to be doing. In this respect, Holden Caufield could be any adolescent. There are lots of people giving him advice and trying to tell him what to do, but he can’t accept any of that. He doesn’t want any of the answers they’re giving, and he’s not asking the type of questions they can answer (or perhaps they just don’t want to answer). He’s detached from society, an outcast, a loner, and he has to learn to discover his answers on his own.
Another prominent theme in the book is Holden’s loss of innocence, or his childhood, if you will. He lost his brother, with whom he had been very close, about a year prior to the events of the book. The whole time, he’ll go on little nostalgic trips, or he’ll see kids playing, or his little sister, and get sad. Because that’s another part of growing up, is realizing that you’re not a child anymore, and that you have to move along and get on with your life. I think Holden would absolutely love to be younger again, to have his brother back and to not have the weight of all this responsibility and to just be free. But he can’t, so he’s stuck in this nostalgic shadow of a life, eternally wishing for the Good Old Days to come back again.
At the same time, though, he’s trying to act like an adult. He tries to pick up older women. He lives by himself for a weekend. He hires a prostitute. He has a little bit of gray hair on the side of his head, which he uses to prove he’s older than he actually is. But the hair, at least for me, was a metaphor for all of his ventures in this area. He may have the hair, and he may show it off, but that doesn’t mean he’s actually an adult. It doesn’t mean he’s mature. With most of his stunts, it either backfires on him or he chickens out, proving to himself once again that, while he’s older than he wants to be, he’s also younger. He figures if he can’t be a kid anymore, he’ll be an adult, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a long process and you can’t just jump to the end of it. There is no state of experience without first having the experiences. Holden, therefore, is stuck in between, unable to move back and unable to move forward fast enough. And so he doesn’t go through with anything. The women don’t like him. Holden ends up running to an old friend’s place to sleep. He pays the prostitute without sleeping with her.
Another short thing I want to touch on is Holden’s alienation. He’s completely alone, even though he knows all of these people in New York. And the thing is most of that’s his fault. He keeps insisting that he doesn’t really like anyone, that people are always “phonies”, that they are promise-breakers and thieves. He’s not the most likeable person in the world, either. It’s this alienation, I think, that makes him most like us. He’s the person we all know we are, deep down. He’s the critic, the one reluctant to trust, the one who thinks no one will understand him. And that’s the saddest part of all.
There’s a metaphor early on in this book about the ducks that live at a pond in Central Park: When the pond freezes over in winter, what happens to the ducks? Do they fly away or stick out the winter in the park? Catcher is, essentially, about the story of a duck, Holden, and his attempt to solve that question. The answer, he finds, is that he doesn’t know.
I think that could apply to any one of us who’s ever grown up or is in the process of doing so. We don’t fit in anywhere in society. We are in the midst of making a huge shift, and until we complete that shift we don’t belong with either children or adults. We are stranded and alone, just like Holden in New York. We are trying to carve our own paths. People will try to help us; people will try to give us answers. But the truth is we need to do this ourselves. We need to face our fears and our problems on our own, if only to prove to ourselves that we can.
There are, of course, many more things worth discussing in this book, but I think I’ll stop there. I highly recommend this, it’s an engaging read and is really powerful. This completes my literary fiction requirement for the Eclectic Reader Challenge (about which you can find out more by going to the Challenge tab). Next on the list is nonfiction, but I’m not sure when I’ll get done that just yet.
In the meantime I’ll end this post with a couple of videos. (“Again?” the readers moaned in unison.) Yes, again. I won’t apologize for showing you relevant educational video. Besides, how can you not love John Green? And he talks about the book in a way that is much more articulate and shows a much deeper understanding of the work than I could ever give you.