Customer Review

145 of 158 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping classic that will always be relevant, March 24, 2006
This review is from: The Catcher in the Rye (Hardcover)
Time has not damaged this tome; it remains a sometimes harrowing, sometimes absorbing, sometimes frustrating, sometimes moving look into a mind in a state of disarray.

Others have written more "shocking" books or have been more overtly anti-social, but with The Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger captures the bitterly confused mind of a youth who hates the whole world not because the world is worth hating, but because he's frustrated at his own inability to get along in that world, with such crisp reality that it shocks far more than any fantastical American Psycho.

Reading over the negative reviews on Amazon, I can't help but wonder how and why so many people are so unable to get it. The Catcher In The Rye is among the, if not the, most tangibly realistic looks into the mind of a disaffected, disillusioned youth suffering from depression (and a touch of the bipolar). The way Holden Caulfield's mind works is incredibly true to form - the contradictions, the hypocrisy, the confusion, the brief moments of sheer clarity followed by stretches of irrational thought. He thinks he's better than the world, and he thinks he's the lousiest person in the world at the same time. He wants everyone to go away and leave him alone, and he can't bear anyone, not even some schmuck he really dislikes (with good reason), to leave him. He's nothing but hypocrisy and contradictions and confusion. Salinger captures this in an amazing way.

People criticize the book because Caulfield is totally unlikable, a guy who rails against phonies when he himself is something of a phony ... but that's part of the point. Holden throws off all the signals someone in his situation actually throws off in real life, and just like real life, they're almost always ignored. Clearly this was a very, very autobiographical work for Salinger.

There are several moments when Caulfield, narrating in the first person, mentions offhandedly that he began to cry, he didn't know why, he felt like dying, and suddenly it went away and he felt invigorated with energy. It rings remarkably true. Who wrote this stuff with such honesty in 1951? Who tackled these issues, and in such a manner, in the 1950s?

The reason this has impact, though, is not simply because of the subject matter, not because of what Holden Caulfield is going through, and not because of the context of its time, but because Salinger never plays it for melodrama. He doesn't talk it up with purple prose or romanticize Caulfield's mentality or beat you over the head with ham-handed messages and platitudes. He neither makes Holden's mentality seem "cool" nor does he preach against Holden's attitude; he just says, "This is what it is." By presenting it in such a matter-of-fact manner, all in the first person, as if the narrator is simply telling you a story while having a few drinks, the whole thing is rooted in a very tangible, and therefore very disturbing, reality.

You and I KNOW Holden Caulfield. We've known that guy. And in The Catcher In The Rye, you get to peer inside his mind.

Even with dated references and slang and phrasings, I don't know that J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye will ever cease to be relevant and important.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 19, 2010 7:17:37 AM PDT
Amen, Eric. I teach this to 11th graders, and more often than not, they can't take the book seriously. It was not written as a classic, like The Great Gatsby or such. They see Holden as a loser - pure and simple. And so I hate to tell them what to think about a book, but I feel there are certain elements to his character that deserve our empathy; he's had a lot on his plate, and I don't know how I would have dealt with similar circumstances. I'm walking a fine line here, trying to encourage the students to voice their authentic reactions to the reading, but there are things I think they're missing. You hit the nail on the head with a lot of your points. For that I thank you.

Posted on Sep 6, 2011 9:57:32 PM PDT
MJN76 says:
"The Catcher In The Rye is among the, if not the, most tangibly realistic looks into the mind of a disaffected, disillusioned youth suffering from depression (and a touch of the bipolar). The way Holden Caulfield's mind works is incredibly true to form - the contradictions, the hypocrisy, the confusion, the brief moments of sheer clarity followed by stretches of irrational thought. He thinks he's better than the world, and he thinks he's the lousiest person in the world at the same time. He wants everyone to go away and leave him alone, and he can't bear anyone, not even some schmuck he really dislikes (with good reason), to leave him. He's nothing but hypocrisy and contradictions and confusion. Salinger captures this in an amazing way."

EXCELLENT SUMMARY. Holden Caulfield is certainly a very depressed and confused young man. Having read this book in high school while suffering from severe depression myself, I understood and identified with Holden's voice immediately. Holden sounds whiny, he complains often, and finds fault with virtually everyone and everything, but consider what kind of a person would hold such twisted views. Such a person would be in a regular state of profound mental pain and anxiety. At the same time, due to his youth and inexperience, he would have great difficulty in putting into words what he was experiencing.

Posted on Jan 30, 2014 5:14:59 PM PST
"Salinger never plays it for melodrama. He doesn't talk it up with purple prose or romanticize Caulfield's mentality or beat you over the head with ham-handed messages and platitudes. He neither makes Holden's mentality seem "cool" nor does he preach against Holden's attitude; he just says, "This is what it is." By presenting it in such a matter-of-fact manner, all in the first person, as if the narrator is simply telling you a story while having a few drinks, the whole thing is rooted in a very tangible, and therefore very disturbing, reality." --Excellent summation. He doesn't tell us how to feel. We either feel something or we don't. You never know who's going to read your story, and spelling it out for one reader is beating another over the head, risking alienation. The proof of his technique's effectiveness in the sales numbers.

Posted on Dec 4, 2014 2:57:05 PM PST
colinization says:
Having bipolar (I) myself, I just wanted to applaud you for picking up on this. In my experience almost no one seems to understand that Holden is slipping into mania, which is understandable as Salinger never comes out and addresses this directly, but it's crucial for understanding the book properly.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2015 3:25:34 PM PST
"Reading over the negative reviews on Amazon, I can't help but wonder how and why so many people are so unable to get it." from another review.
From yours: "I teach this to 11th graders, and more often than not, they can't take the book seriously. ... They see Holden as a loser - pure and simple. And so I hate to tell them what to think about a book, ..." (But you do, of course). I sometimes wonder if all "Catcher in the Rye" fans ever heard of the fable "The Emperor Has No Clothes"

From my perspective, the kids have it right. I don't know how far back the phenomenon of the pseudo intellectual gushing to a another pretentious cognoscenti about this-or-that piece of "art" (standing in front of a solid grey canvass , for example) goes, But at 83 I see more and more of it as our culture looses its bearings.
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