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Book Review – The Catcher in the Rye

I can appreciate classics, but I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like them very much. 

For one, I’ve never been big on symbolism, and I think that’s a big part of loving the classics–loving symbolism. Having that deep appreciation for all the underlying meaning in a particular novel that seems–at best–a little bit random. I’m not bad at picking up on symbolism, though it took me forever to realize that Holden’s hunting hat was a symbol, the most obvious to me were the ducks.

This book basically follows a depressed kid, Holden Caulfield, who doesn’t know why he’s so depressed. He’s highly cynical, incredibly hypocritical–thinks everyone and your grandmother is a phony when he’s lying out his ass about pretty much everything he can to spin life his way–deeply intelligent, and very immature. 

I had to look the book up on SparkNotes after I finished it because I didn’t understand the ending at all. 

I think J.D. Salinger did a really good job intensifying Holden’s mental illness as the book progressed. That was my favorite part. He doesn’t start off so bad, but by the end Holden’s practically passing out and dizzy with his depression. 

He’s so lonely. That’s what struck me so deeply. He is so lonely and it breaks your heart to see him alienating himself by convincing himself of his greatness and how he is far and away better than every other person on the planet just to protect himself from an intimate relationship. 

He resists growing up, which is just a part of life, you may not like it, but everyone has to grow up, and it’s just a testament to his depression, it’s like he feels helpless and useless. It’s like he’s just lost any and all hope he has for the future because he looks at all the grown ups around him and immediately perceives them as phonies and perverts. 

But then you have Holden who is so unaware of his self running around, thinking about women in the crudest of ways, lying to every person he can, nearly shacking up with a prostitute, and you wonder how he got so incredibly off kilter. 

He’s a classic projector. You read him projecting his depression onto everyone around him in his thoughts, even onto inanimate objects. 

I took her dress over to the closet and hung it up for her. It was funny. It made me feel sort of sad when I hung it up. I thought of her going in a store and buying it and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute and all. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell–I don’t know why exactly.

New York’s terrible when someone laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed.

The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.

The kid is just depressed as hell. It’s a little hard to read at times because you would hate to be so mindless, so obviously unaware of your own wellbeing. He has no idea why he’s sad and lonely, yet he’s made it that way for himself by protecting himself with all these false perceptions of the world around him. It’s like everything is bleak, there are “fuck you”s everywhere, there is no hope for a life real and worthy of Holden’s time or attention, so he just wants to get out of a dodge. Which is another classic motif–just running away from your problems. 

He wants to, like, move to Colorado and shack up in a cabin just outside of the forest where there is a lot of sunlight, because of course there’s a symbol right there. He gives the responsibility of his glaring sadness to the outside world. He looks outside of himself for happiness, but he’s lonely because he’s kept himself from having meaningful relationships with anybody around him because they’re all phonies. But he enables it, he eggs them on, he talks with great crudeness about sexual relationships and can only seem to find common ground with people when it has to do with who they’re “giving the time.”

He’s so nauseated by intimacy, it’s obvious when he’s in the movies watching a couple fall in love. Every display of affection he’s telling the reader he can’t even say it out loud because he might vomit. But he yearns for that. When he’s begging Sally to move to Maine with him you see it.

He’s just SOOOOOO unaware. Like he’s trying on a million different hats and just pretending to be the one that fits best–the unique one. The one that is SOOO different, but actually, more of the same. 

But he’s too rash. He wants a panacea. He wants the sky to open up and just give him all the answers, just solve all his issues, just tell him how to feel okay. And so he jumps to all these random temporary solutions and doesn’t realize shacking up with Sally in Maine, whom he thinks is a phony, isn’t going to solve all his problems. She can’t make him happy. 

He’s impossibly perceptive on the other hand too, and has some brilliant moments and commentary that took me by surprise because I didn’t expect him to be so suddenly mature, I couldn’t believe he could analyze people so perfectly and still be so unaware of himself. He hates the intellectuals, but wants to have intellectual conversations because he’s intellectual himself, which is of course why he’s so hypocritical. 

It’s a funny thing about girls. Every time you mention some guy that’s strictly a bastard–very mean, or very conceited and all–and when you mention it to the girl, she’ll tell you he has an inferiority complex.

He had some very interesting relationships in this story. I found it odd that he missed people he described as phony, that he spent so much time asking grownups out and conversing with older people when he couldn’t really stand them much. It’s like HOLDEN how can’t you see that you are using these stupid opinions of people to hold yourself back? You MISS them, why do you let yourself MISS them when you could have MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM.

I mean, Holden is kind of annoying himself. I hated how he bought everybody drinks, how he spent money so carelessly, how he was just so reckless. It just made his immaturity so obvious, and reading a novel from his perspective was at times frustrating. STOP BUYING THEIR DRINKS!! SHE DOESN’T LIKE YOU AT ALL!!! OPEN YOUR EYES.

He’s actually so smart, I feel like he just CHOSE not to see the truth, which was the most annoying thing about him. Just open your eyes, kid, there’s so much hope for someone who is so intelligent but refuses to allow himself intelligence. 

I wish he went more into his childhood so we could understand why he was the way he was. But a big part of it must be his brother, Allie, who died from leukemia at a young age. I think that’s when he lost hope in the world. It’s sad, and it breaks my heart for Holden. 

I would have to say some of my favorite lines came at the end of the book from a phony, Mr. Antolini:

“I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind… Are you listening to me?”


You could tell he was trying to concentrate and all.

“It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college.”

“I may not word this as memorably as I’d like to…”

I’m still reeling from how intense Holden’s instability got at the end. I mean he became paranoid and convinced he was dying from cancer–like his brother did–in like the blink of an eye. Suddenly he was so sure he was a goner, he was so sure his life was meaningless. I couldn’t believe how fast it went from 0 to 100, how deeply affected he became by his circumstances. 

The thing is, if you get very depressed about something, it’s hard as hell to swallow.

You kind of read this novel like a parent would listening to a teenager explain how they’re in love with a boy and won’t be able to go on after he breaks up with her. It’s kind of funny in a way. Like he’s just so unseeing of a future that he can’t predict. He’s predicting an imminent death, he’s swearing he doesn’t need to go to school, he’s swearing he doesn’t need guidance of any sort, he’s thinking he can go living in a cabin in Colorado by himself when he can’t even survive in the city with millions of people constantly around him. It’s humorous, it’s such a kid thing.

All in all, I thought it was a well-rounded novel, it was very consistent. I didn’t like how there were no scene breaks, and I found that all the characters sounded a little too alike, but the depression was spot on, the way he acted out, how it spurred from childhood. Classic coming of age novel, though I don’t think he came to age at all. He may be on his way.  

But I mean, it’s a classic. Strong symbolism and motifs. I can appreciate it, I just don’t like it very much. 



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