The Catcher In The Rye. Classic literature it ain’t


To paraphrase the ancient wisdom, there is a time to read the classics and a time to disown what people perceive as a work of classical literature. Which brings, us rather neatly, to The Catcher In The Rye, or The Catcher, as its fans call it, of which so much praise had been said and written that it is time to peel the onion of the myth that has been created around this unremarkable book.

I personally never liked The Catcher and could never understand what all the fuss was about. I think it’s a badly written book and is not at all suitable for teenagers for whom it was intended. I didn’t like it when I had to read it many years ago and I sure didn’t like it when I re-read it again, in protest against all that praise showered on it, and to check whether my initial impression had been right.

For those of you who have forgotten what the book is about I’ll try to refresh your memories: 16-year-old Holden Caulfield is kicked out of his boarding school before the Christmas break, for failing his exams. Holden is not exactly keen on the prospect of meeting his parents, having been already expelled from two other schools. So he decides to postpone the encounter, especially as his parents who live in New York would not find out about his expulsion for several days at least anyway. So young Holden travels to New York, incognito, leaves his baggage in the locker at a railway station and checks into a hotel. He then goes clubbing, tries to get laid and fails, goes on a date which ends in disaster and manages to get into his flat, at night, for a chat with his little sister, Phoebe. He then goes on a drinking binge, suffers a mental breakdown and is placed in a psychiatric clinic. Curtain falls. The end.

This is the plot of the book. Of course, as the story is told by Holden himself, there are loads of flashbacks and reminiscences of people whom he’d met in the past. Not to mention the many observations that Holden makes. And that is where the problem arises for me, because Holden very often sounds not like a teenager but like a grown man, a dirty old man at times, and tries to appear original while not being original at all.

And then there’s this dream that Holden has of being the catcher in the rye. The idea originates from his mistaken belief that a rhyme in Robert Burns’ poem goes, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” Not ‘meet’, you see, but ‘catch’. And young Holden, being ‘original’ and all, wants to be exactly that – the catcher in the rye. As he explains to his sister Phoebe, he imagines thousands of small unattended children playing in a field of rye while he stands on the edge of a cliff to catch them, before they might fall to their deaths. And that, he tells his little sis, is what he really wants to do for the rest of his life – be the catcher in the rye.

I don’t know about you, but that sort of politically correct crap doesn’t really impress me much. It’s a case of trying to sound original for the sake of sounding original. You sort of suggest something meaningless and stupid and then pretend that it’s all extremely original, because no one else had thought of it before. (Strange that he didn’t mention that he wanted to catch black and Asian kids mostly, the PC freak!)

But it just doesn’t work for me. It’s the sort of thing that Bob Dylan could have come up with when he was on dope. And now that I think about it, I’m actually starting to realise that The Catcher In The Rye is a druggy sort of book. Sure, there are no drugs in it per se, but it still has a druggy feel to it. You know, Holden talking complete rubbish most of the time, and not being able to concentrate on anything, and jumping from one subject to another, and slowly approaching that point of mental breakdown.

Hmm, I think I now begin to understand why this book has been so heavily promoted by all those bohemian lowlifes and liberals.

It is cleverly written – I won’t take it away from J.D.Salinger, because what he does is he picks the subjects that are guaranteed to get young people hooked – girls, booze, sex – and weaves his web of words around them, making his main character, Holden, a bit of a cynic, a bit of a rebel, a bit of foulmouthed know-it-all cool dude. And it all sort of holds the book together, even though the story line sucks big time, but for an impressionable reader it might even seem like a story with a substance in it.

As I’ve already mentioned, you constantly feel that the book is written by a grown-up man pretending to be a youngster. And in a way it’s actually creepy, to be honest. You know, like when you hear about those perverts who pretend to be teenagers on the Internet, grooming their victims.

And here you have a teenager who is supposed to be still naive in many ways, and yet, time and time again he thinks and behaves like an adult. And, of course, it’s quite annoying to hear Holden using ‘goddam’ in every other phrase. Sure, there has to be a rebellious streak in him, but I found that I wanted to say to Salinger on more than one occasion: “Hey, Jerome, please, cut down on this s..t. We got the message. Please, spare us this ‘goddam’ stuff. Don’t be like a bloody scriptwriter for the Sopranos.”’

But I think that the biggest problem with Holden Caulfield is that he’s actually quite a nasty piece of work. He doesn’t really like anyone, he gets easily excited over irrelevant things and he thinks that he’s original when original he ain’t.

And I’ll tell you something else that just isn’t right about The Catcher In The Rye: I think that when Salinger was writing it, he would occasionally stop and say to himself, “Right, I need to introduce something here that would make Holden look a bit more appealing. Because he does come across as a little shit.”

And so Salinger would introduce a dead brother, Allie, a kind, loveable boy, intelligent and caring, so that Holden would reminisce about the good old days that they had spent together, and all of a sudden he would not look all that bad after all. And, naturally, throughout the book Allie’s image would come up, time after time, and on each occasion we’d be expected to warm up to Holden because he still had fond memories of his dead brother.

But a dead brother is a dead brother, so there had to be someone wonderful, whom Holden could love and worship in his present life. So in came his little sister, Phoebe, the one whom Holden tells about his dream of becoming the catcher in the rye.

Boy oh boy is she nice, that Phoebe: caring, understanding, loving, intelligent, pretty and kind. The lot. And Holden thinks of her all the time and wants to call her and ‘chew the fat’ with her. And it becomes really sloppy and weepy and we sort of have to love Holden for loving his Sis, forgiving him for being an indifferent and self-centred prick that he is.

No, honestly, Phoebe is just too good to be a real person. She should have been dead, like Holden’s brother, Allie, and then it would have been easier to accept her as a real human being. Because it is always like that with dead people – we remember the good things about them and omit the bad. Or not remember them at all.

Sorry, but I don’t like The Catcher In The Rye. And I think that it was a very bad idea to make it required reading in schools. There’s nothing worthwhile in it that a teenager can pick up. Nothing at all.

Classic it ain’t, that’s for sure.