The hero, Holden Caulfield, is extraordinarily privileged for a teenager; he has freedoms most teenagers could only dream of. Not only does he go to a succession of top private schools, but also his brother is a Hollywood scriptwriter, he lives in Manhattan, he can smoke both at home and at school, he has rich parents who clearly love him and look after him, he can leave his boarding school at will to travel into New York to party and to meet girls, and he has the confidence to wander into nightclubs and bars, to book into hotels, and even to ask waiters to invite singers to his table. Is he really a typical American youth facing an emotional crisis?
Plot Spoiler alert; this section has spoilers (although “I’d tell you the rest of the story, but I might puke if I did. It isn’t that I’d spoil it for you or anything. There isn’t anything to spoil, for Chrissake.” ,p 125)
The plot seems to divide into four sections; like Acts; each Act is almost exactly one quarter of the book. The first act recounts Holden at prep school. The second act follows him to New York where he takes a hotel room and goes to a night club. He tries to pick up some girls but in the end he has a hooker come to his room. This act finishes with him being beaten up by the hooker's pimp for an extra five dollars. If this is Holden's descent into hell, he descends a long way. But in Act Three he leaves his hotel and starts to roam around New York. He persuades a girl friend to watch the movies with him; he insults her and she leaves. He persuades an old friend to have a drink with him; again Holden's behaviour sends the lad away. Holden is now drunk and lonely. He decides to go to see his sister. In Act Four he sees his sister than he goes to the house of an old teacher to sleep the night but he becomes afraid that the teacher wants to sleep with him and so he ends up sleeping in a station waiting room. He is homeless and getting ill.
Breaks the rules. He uses a lot of repetition. No kidding. A lot. And italics. Uses the phrase “It really does” a lot. Especially (?) when he is lying.
He uses the word “old “ to describe people.
He uses a lot of exaggeration, such as the phrase “it killed me” to mean it tickled me pink.
David Lodge in "The Art of Fiction" (chapter 4; Teenage skaz") says: “It's the style that makes the book interesting. The story it tells is episodic, inconclusive, and largely made up of trivial events ... The language is, by normal literary criteria, very impoverished.”
What's it all about?
- Holden, the kid who hates phonys, is the biggest phony of them all. He's a spoiled rich kid who thinks he can use his money to buy people, like a prostitute, or old the girls from Seattle, or his friend old Luce; he gives them money and presents and he buys them drinks but he can't buy their love. The only love he gets is from Phoebe his sister; he buys her a record but he breaks it before she gets it.
- Holden, the kid who hates phonys, who is "the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life".
- Holden, the virgin who is desperate to get laid, who can't take advantage of the young prostitute, who gets into a fight defending the honour of a girl he has never slept with.
- Holden the naive innocent, who gets beaten up by a pimp and nearly seduced by his teacher.
- Holden, the spolied brat with the unrealistic dreams of escaping to the countryside to chop wood and pump gas.
- Holden, the adolescent who misses his dead brother, who can't study at school, who enters the hell of New York and descends into his own private hell of depression and loneliness, ending up sleeping in the station.
- Contradictions abound. Even his dream of being a 'catcher' in the rye is based on his mishearing a song about meeting someone in the rye.
“Then this girl gets killed, because she's always speeding. That story just about killed me.” (p 16)
Holden is very concerned with not being a ‘phony’; he hates phonys. “Grand. There's a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.” (p 8)
“They give guys the ax quite frequently at Pencey. It has a very good academic rating, Pencey. It really does.” (p 3)
“ almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.” (p 46)
“Mothers are all slightly insane.” (p 49)
“He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.” (p 79)
“Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while he was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head.” (p 89)
“My big trouble is, I always sort of think whoever I’m necking is a pretty intelligent person. It hasn’t a goddam thing to do with it, but I keep thinking it anyway.” (p 95)
“Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” (p 102)
“I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do.” (p 105)
“A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.” (p 117)
“All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.” (p 142)
“Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (p 192)
Great book (though there are better); September 2017; 192 pages