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February 28, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Catcher in the Rye


For a work replete with teenage mannerisms, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye remains a spellbinding portrait of life as an adolescent.

Effortlessly illustrating ‘teenage angst’, Catcher is told from the perspective of Holden Caufield, a seventeen-year-old middle-upper class American boy.  Beginning in his posh prep school, Pencey College, Holden is a talented writer but a poor student. His lack of interest in his studies and his ambivalence towards his roommates makes him an awkward, lonely and vulnerable figure in the hierarchical teenage social system of his high school.

What does a teenager do when he feels alone? For Holden, he flees. Desperate to escape his parents and painful childhood memories, he absconds to New York with the cash in his wallet. Ordering as much alcohol as he is allowed to get away with in gutter bars, he wanders through New York feigning maturity and desperately trying to make friends with whomever he meets. He crosses paths with a New York prostitute and her beefy pimp, several flighty girl friends and a swathe of ‘phonies’, whose only goal in life is to fit in with the fashionable crowd. Holden quickly tires of almost everyone, save for one little girl whose experience of life resonates more with him than anyone else.

As Holden’s story progresses, tiny but important elements of his life begin to emerge, gradually meshing the fabric of his life together. An understanding of a human being’s motivations, triumphs, losses and failures is artfully sketched in under the deceptive blanket of teenage vernacular, making it an accessible work of literature for all ages.

Humorous, endlessly relevant and bittersweet, Salinger’s Holden defines the modern teenager. Catcher in the Rye is a masterpiece of extraction, airing legitimate adolescent issues with the kind of soulful consideration little seen in discussions on adolescent culture.

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