This essay reviews the literature in the book “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. It examines several themes ranging from teenage confusion, alienation and rebellion especially during teenage. According to the literature, the novel was initially meant for adult audience. However, with time it has become increasingly more popular with the readers in adolescence or the youth who are just getting off the adolescent age. In particular, the portrayal of anti-hero factor in the novel has increasingly become a perfect exemplification of teenage rebellion. As such, the novel has not only become more popular in the Americas, but also in almost the major languages in the world spanning all the continents. This essay intends to take a critical look at the novel by putting into perspective all the major issues that have been raised concerning the novel in the United States as well as the rest of the world (Salinger, 1951).
Sexuality and Sexual Identity
The novel investigates various sexual practices and outlines how they define the manner in which young adults get to understand their own sexuality. For instance, Holden seems too concerned about preserving his sexual innocence at all cost. Although he had unrivalled curiosity with sexual matters, he had to squander all the available chances as he wanted to remain innocent. This he did at the expense of gaining carnal knowledge for himself. It was probably in light of this that he refused to have sex throughout the storyline of the novel. Essentially, Holden had developed a false idea during his earlier encounters with molestation and child abuse that sex is both degrading and “crumby”. As such, the writer intended to expose the dangers of exposing young people to such traumatizing incidents in their lives at an early age. According to the novel, it can be rightly deduced that people’s sexual character as well as their identity are largely dependent on the kind of treatment they get in their childhood. Indeed, every child should be let free to live their lives only within limited acceptable parental guidance that are meant to make them whole and socially integrated. Any unnecessary restrictions may amount to child abuse and as such interfere with their growth and development resulting in a life defined more by sadness and isolation (Salinger, 1951).
The Use of Profanity
Salinger used a good variety of slang and profanity to the extent of wide spread criticism from parents and educators alike. However, he regarded it a necessity especially considering the fact that he was discussing the complex issue of sexuality. According to him, the subject of sexuality can only be discussed in depth if people become more open and call the hard things by names. To this end, a lot of criticism was evident with most people terming the literature as not meeting the threshold for “literary seriousness”. In particular, many critics pointed out to the informal tone used in the novel as the basis for the purported lack of seriousness. As such, many communities still impose a ban on this book to this date (Salinger, 1951).
Although widely surrounded with a dark cloud of controversy, the book has greatly appealed to a large number of people. In fact, it was quite popular as a bestseller perhaps due to the fact that the writing seemed to invoke the emotions of the readers in quite a unique way. In particular, the book was widely read especially on the subject of personal alienation within a world of heartlessness during countercultural revolt that marked the period around the 1950s and 1960s. Essentially, Holden perfectly exemplified the young people who are faced with the life’s challenges and pressures to grow up, live by the rules of the community as well as restrict their own personalities. Ideally, the readers saw Holden Caulfield as a typical example of a young man pure at heart yet faced with severe cultural oppression. In this respect, a good majority of the readers found the novel a very easy to identify with in the context of their own social lives (Salinger, 1951).
The writer perfectly exposed the issue of the teenage feeling of intense apprehension as well as the inner turmoil. This was perfectly done to the extent that the novel earned the title of the best novel ever to deal with teenage issues. These were marked by his “phoniness” as he sought to find his footing in the adult society as well as trying to be seen as a respectful teenager. Ideally, all the characters created by Mr. Salinger have an equal measure of challenges in prep school. In as much as they may be able to afford their tuition fees, they end up experiencing a larger than expected share of teenage angst. Essentially, this is why occurrences like suicide, nervous breakdowns as well as loss of faith span the entire storyline (Salinger, 1951).
As a matter of fact, to a 16 year old guy receiving medication in a mental hospital, there is no doubt that Holden’s encounters expose him to a hell on earth. For instance, his struggle to find a social place in quite an ugly world proves a challenge to a boy his age. This coupled with urban sleaze portray the teenager as a perfect example of self contradictions that make of a teenage life. However, the writer later on gave an impression that some hope could somehow come Holden’s way in spite of the struggle he had had to contend with. In fact, by the end of the novel Holden came to see that the world may certainly not be that bad after all and that there still are some reasons to grow up as responsible individual (Salinger, 1951).
Identity and Alienation
The story depicts of Holden’s struggle with identity and a sense of belonging. For instance, when Holden opts not to be part of the football game that the whole school intends to be part of it becomes clear that he lacks a sense of belonging to the larger social setting. However, it appears unique that his little sense of belonging serves him right in as much as it harms him. It serves him right in that he avoids the type of company that would easily cause him rejection or the type of emotional pain that he underwent when Allie passed on. On the other hand, it harms his social well being when he develops a character of intense loneliness and depression. This makes him attempt to reach out to Mr. Spencer, something that does not go as far. Due to his inner fears of social interaction, he ends up insulting the new comrades making them become angry at him the more. Indeed, it becomes a complex cycle of self destruction that the teenagers find themselves. First, the fear of interacting with other people leaves them alienated people, and this causes loneliness which makes them attempt to reach out to other people. Eventually this invokes their fears of social interactions making them insult the very people they wish to keep them company. In the end, they remain as lonely and alienated as ever before (Salinger, 1951).
The depth with which the novel discusses issues to do with teenage life is quite profound. The writer puts himself in the shoes of an adolescent, wears the mind of a teenage and perfectly incorporates the language of a maturing young adult. This makes the reader perfectly identify with the novel in entirety as something that does not just talk about life, but one which touches on their own lives. As such, the passage of time has seen the novel translated to almost all the major languages in the world.
- J.D. Salinger. (1951): Catcher in the Rye. New York, Little Brown & Company Publishers. P. 23, 40, 49, 52, 90, 102.