Catcher in the Rye Assignment
Dear Mr. Salinger, My purpose in writing you is to express my reaction to your novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”, an exercise that your main character, Holden Caulfield, would have relished. I think that many of the events that take place are presented more as vignettes, and the feeling that I got while reading the novel was one of experiencing something a bit incomplete and disjointed. Of course, I realize that these stories are being told as Holden’s memories, and so perhaps their disjointed nature is suitable after all.
My biggest reaction is to Holden himself. While at times Holden displays feelings of concern and genuine care for “the innocents” as he calls them, I often found myself rather annoyed, yet empathetic towards his behavior and his outlook on life. I understand that Holden is a teenager living in a time just after World War II, and the change that is going on around him, socially and politically, has to be disorienting to a young mind that has yet to figure out who they are, let alone what the entire world is about. Unfortunately change is not something that Holden Caulfield relates to very well. I was moved by the conversations he had with Allie, his deceased brother, and with his memories of carousel horses going around and around. It was an innocent attempt of a young boy trying to hold onto the few things he understood and that made sense to him. Others have painted Holden as a self-indulgent; angst ridden and undisciplined, uncaring character, but I don’t see him quite that way. Yes he is undisciplined to some extent, but he is a teenager, after all, and he’s looking for a way to make that transition into adulthood. Holden’s problem is that he can’t find a way to do it without becoming one of the hypocrites that he describes in the novel, and so he tries to make time stand still.
I think Holden’s disregard for phoniness is maybe his own uneasiness at trying and then failing to connect to certain people. It is also ironic die to level of fiction that Holden injects into his encounters with others. He frowns upon his brother D.B.’s career in Hollywood, the piano player in the club, and Sally, because they remind him of his own inability to reach out and connect with others in an authentic, personal manner. I found this to be true through out the novel, as Holden begins a conversation with someone that quickly turns into an encounter riddled with lies. For instance, when he meets up with Ernie’s mother, he doesn’t give her his real name, but the name of the janitor, and plays the mother for a fool, by making her believe Ernie is popular and well liked. Again, when he meets up with Sally, he is disturbed by her ability to attract attention from others and blend in socially. Finally, when Holden’s parents come home, he hides from them instead of facing the truth about his situation, revealing the fact that he is not as authentic and real as he would like to believe he is, and that there’s a healthy dose of phoniness in his life, as well. I admire and appreciate the complexity of Holden’s character. He is neither a monster nor a saint. He is a teenage boy who represents all of us, at one time, when we find ourselves wondering how to get from point A to point B, and questioning our own mortality in the process.
Catcher in the Rye: Questions and Answers
Question 1: Holden, why are you so critical of others?
Answer: I’m critical because I see so many phony people around me, and they all seem to stick together, and support each other. It’s like a members only club; all of the beautiful people, the rich people, and the socially acceptable people have their material possessions, and so they think they don’t have to consider anyone or anything else. I criticize them because they think they are the best the world has to offer, and they’re not; they’re the worst, because all they care about is themselves.
Question 2: Have there been times in your life, Holden, when you have put your needs ahead of others? And isn’t that the same thing?
Answer: Sure, sometimes I put my needs before others, but it isn’t the way I am all the time. There are a lot of people that I put ahead of myself, because I care more about their needs than my own, and that’s the way it should be.
Question 3: And who are these people Holden? It seems to me that you pull away from anyone who tries to become close to you. Why is that?
Answer: I care about my family, and I care about close friends; friends who are real down to earth good people. So many other people try to get close to me because they want to change the person that I am. It’s as if I’m not good enough the way I am. It’s their way of trying to get me to conform and be like them, or be the way they want me to be. I just don’t feel like being putty in someone else’s hands.
Question 4: Holden, do you really think that you can go through life without changing, or without being influenced by others? And isn’t change a part of growing up?
Answer: Yes, but growing up in your own way, and not having a bunch of hypocrites dictate the kind of person that you should be. I look at them, grown ups mostly, and wonder what’s so great about growing up. I don’t want to be like them. I want things to stay the way they are; the way I understand them.
Question 5: It sounds as if you are afraid of change because you don’t know what the future holds for you, and because you would have to let go of the past. Is that the case?
Answer: Yes, to some degree. I don’t like change. I admit there are a lot of things about life that I don’t understand or that don’t make sense to me. As for the past, I don’t want to let it go, and I don’t think that I should have to. The past holds some really good memories for me, my brother Allie, hanging out with Jane, laughing with my sister Phoebe, even school at times. Compared to what I have in my life right now, why would I want to give those things up? You’re right, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I bet it won’t be as good as my past.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. U.S.A: Little, Brown & Company, 1945.