A New Look At an Old Book, from a Young Woman Who Couldn’t Put It Down

By Leah Cresswell

catcherHolden Caulfield is a timeless character, the epitome of a whiny teenager who makes everything seem worse than it actually is. It appears that most of his issues are things that he makes up in his head and then obsesses over. Then he actually goes crazy.

Today, as a 20-year-old woman, I actually respect this book. I don’t care if it was published more than 60 years ago. It will always be the story of adolescent trying to find his way in the world and discover who he is, constantly thinking about his future. yet not quite knowing how to get there. This will always be how the world is no matter what year it is.

The book starts right around Christmas vacation at a boys’ prep school in Pennsylvania. Holden has just been kicked out, so he decides that, rather than waiting a few days till the end of the semester, he is just going to leave in the middle of the night. Off he goes into an escapade, exploring New York City at all hours of the day and night. He runs into some interesting experiences with some taxi drivers, nuns, tourists from Seattle, a pimp elevator man, a prostitute and an old teacher who turns out to be slightly pedophiliac.

After all, it is not every day a 16-year-old boy meets an elevator man who turns out to be a pimp. Hormonal teenagers, asked if they want to have sex with a prostitute, might feel stupid saying no but, apparently, even dumber if hey say yes. After making his initial decision to lose his virginity, Caulfield does not anticipate predict that Maurice, the pimp, and Sunny, the hooker, will swindle him into paying more — especially since the sex didn’t even happen. Caulfield stands his ground. Maurice punches him in the gut, Sunny grabs the extra money from his wallet, and Caulfield pretends he has been shot rather than swindled.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” really never gets old because adolescence will always be a scary place. The book had astounding reviews when it came out, and people still rave about it today. It doesn’t matter that this novel was first published in 1951, teenagers still go through similar things that Caulfield did throughout this story. There may be some different language such as “lousy,” “goddam,” and “Chrissake” that people don’t really use anymore, but that doesn’t mean the story behind the words has lost currency.

Everyone at some point in life considers dropping out of school; struggles with their love life, has problems making friends, feels lonely, and tries to act older than they actually are. Though they may not take it to such extremes as Caulfield, most people go through strange phases while trying to grow up, attempting to escape childhood, while not quite knowing exactly how to be an adult yet.

I first read this book four years ago as a junior in high school, but as I read it recently for the second time, my mind still remembered my favorite parts from the past.

Salinger grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the very end. On the other hand, I definitely felt some bumps in the roller coaster ride. For instance, separate paragraphs would be nice ragther than dense text! It was so difficult to determine the end of a thought in the book, because some thoughts didn’t have a natural ending. There were just seemingly endless chunks of words that were not only intimidating but at times obnoxious.

Still, once I pushed past that, I began to enjoy the massive paragraphs because it got to the point where I didn’t want the thoughts to end. I never wanted to put the book down, but real life would kick in and there were times when a break was necessary. I would spend 10 minutes waiting for a good place to stop reading, and there rarely seemed to be one. Salinger just kept going and going with his thoughts all over the place, some taking far too long to be completed.

The chaos was a great representation of Caulfield’s scatterbrain mind. He would be talking about one thing and before you even realized it, a new thought would jump in and intervene. This was at times hard to keep track of, but essential nonetheless. The constant action and switching of ideas brought to life how “crazy” Caulfield really was: jumping around with thoughts all over the place.

One thing about this novel is that it leaves nothing unanswered. All my questions eventually got answers by the end of the book. It was interesting how Salinger did that through this teenage voice. For example, he would talk nonstop about characters such as Phoebe, Caulfield’s younger sister, creating an anxious feeling while awaiting her actual arrival in the story. Then suddenly, she finally appeared, and she was just as interesting as Holden Caulfield had described her.

English teachers all over still insist on making their students read this book. It speaks for itself when it tells young students and adolescents around Caulfield’s age not to get sucked into the world too fast. Maybe preserving youth is important. Maybe kids really do grow up too fast.

When it comes to reading such an old book, most people would be groaning and reluctant to do so. I, on the other hand, was excited to repeat the crazy adventure that happens when Salinger and Caulfield join forces. Catcher in the Rye is pure beauty. It squarely addresses something as serious as mental illness, and brings light to it. This book has humor, it has action. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it makes you never want to put it down. Why, you might have asked J.D. Salinger, why was there no sequel? Is that all there was? 

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