The Catcher in the Rye is written in a subjective style from the point of view of its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, following his exact thought process (a writing style known as stream of consciousness). There is flow in the seemingly disjointed ideas and episodes; for example, as Holden sits in a chair in his dorm, minor events such as picking up a book or looking at a table, unfold into discussions about experiences. Critical reviews agree that the novel accurately reflected the teenage colloquial speech of the time. Holden is six feet two and has grown six and a half inches in the last year.
He's a heavy smoker and wears his hair in a crew cut. People mistake him for being 13 even though he's 16 and has a headful of gray hair. Holden's appearance is that of an adolescent who's not just too young or too old for his age, but somehow both at once. Holden has just failed out of Pencey Prep. The only subject he passed was English, as he reads a lot on his own. The novel follows Holden's last few days at Pencey and the events that happen afterward, which lead to his hospitalization and psychoanalysis. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield during these crucial days, as told by Holden.
Holden is alienated from society. He feels that no one understands him and that everyone is a "phony". He thinks that no one is honest, and everybody wants to be something else. He feels that the only person who understands him is Phoebe. He does not have relationships with girls, or anyone because he feels that he is the only genuine person in the world.. Holden has to deal with loss. He loses his brother, Allie, to leukemia, and feels a tremendous loss. Allie wrote poems on an old baseball glove, and Holden cherishes this, and speaks about it in great detail.
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His brother D. B. lives in Hollywood, and is a screenwriter. Holden regards him as a "phony" and has little contact with him. He regards D. B. as a figurative prostitute, who writes only to make money, and not for intellectual redemption. Another issue in Catcher is betrayal. Holden constantly feels betrayed, and that is a possible cause of his problems. Early in the novel, Mr. Spencer betrays him. He was one of the few teachers at Pency that Holden liked. Spencer broke the news of Holden's expulsion, and Holden felt betrayed.
Stradlater betrays Holden by dating his best friend, Jane, whom Holden also had a crush on. When Holden returns home to see Phoebe, she is disappointed in him that he failed out of Pency. He thinks that she should accept him unconditionally, so he feels betrayed. Writer Bruce Brooks held that Holden's attitude remains unchanged at story's end, implying no maturation, thus differentiating the novel from young adult fiction. In contrast, writer and academic Louis Menand thought that teachers assign the novel because of the optimistic ending, to teach adolescent readers that "alienation is just a phase. While Brooks maintained that Holden acts his age, Menand claimed that Holden thinks as an adult, given his ability to accurately perceive people and their motives such as when Phoebe states that she will go out west with Holden, and he immediately rejects this idea as ridiculous, much to Phoebe's disappointment. Others highlight the dilemma of Holden's state, in between adolescence and adulthood. While Holden views himself to be smarter than and as mature as adults, he is quick to become emotional. "I felt sorry as hell for... " is a phrase he often uses. Peter Beidler, in his A Reader's Companion to J.
D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye", identifies the movie that the prostitute Sunny refers to in chapter 13 of The Catcher in the Rye. She says that in the movie a boy falls off a boat. The movie is Captains Courageous, starring Spencer Tracy. Sunny says that Holden looks like the boy who fell off the boat. Beidler shows (see p. 28) a still of the boy, played by child-actor Freddie Bartholomew. The novel's philosophy has been negatively compared with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Each Caulfield child has literary talent: D. B. writes screenplays in Hollywood; Holden also reveres D.
B. for his writing skill (Holden's own best subject), but he also despises movies, considering them the ultimate in "phony", and describes D. B. 's move to Hollywood to write for films as "prostituting himself"; Allie wrote poetry on his baseball glove; and Phoebe is a diarist. This "catcher in the rye" is an analogy for Holden, who admires in kids attributes he struggles to find in adults, like innocence, kindness, spontaneity, and generosity. Falling off the cliff could be a progression into the adult world that surrounds him and that he strongly criticizes.
Later, Phoebe and Holden exchange roles as the "catcher" and the "fallen"; he gives her his hunting hat, the catcher's symbol, and becomes the fallen as Phoebe becomes the catcher. Holden is an atypical teenager. He is alienated more than most adolescents. He also is in the midst of an identity crisis. All teenagers go through these phases, so everyone can relate to Holden to some extent. Holden is socially inept. Although he has many friends and acquaintances, he can not form lasting, meaningful friendships. Most teenagers, although they do have insecurities, are able to function in relationships. Holden does not mature through the novel.
He actually regresses back to a child-like state of mind. He is constantly dwelling on the death of his younger brother, and avoids his parents, and feels like the only person he can talk to is his ten year old sister. Holden holds Allie and Phoebe in such high esteem because they are innocent. Holden's goal is to protect innocence in the world. When he hears the "Catcher in the Rye" song being sung by a little boy, he decides that he wants to be the person that keeps children from falling off a cliff. That cliff symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood, and he wants to keep them as innocent children, not phony adults.
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