24 November 2017
Critical Analysis of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: The Madman Tale
‘‘I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life’’, says a young boy of seventeen, who is highly sensitive, trying to resolve the complexity of adulthood and loss in human values and struggling somewhere between his illusions and breakdown. However, does this comply with the absent-minded character he portrays in the novel? This is one of those classical works of J.D Salinger which got extreme popularity as well as became controversial due to its colloquial construct. Written in the first person, it is a full-fledged coming-of-age literary masterpiece which centralizes around cities of New York, Pennsylvania and then back to New York. Salinger, with his stream of consciousness writing style coupled with extraordinary contrivances of realistic fiction, makes a history in English literature.
Structured during the period of World War II, J.D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a story of a troubled teenager, Holden Caulfield, going through emotional trauma and finding every other grown-up insincere and phony except his brother Allie and little sister Phoebe.
It revolves around the protagonist, Holden, who is distraught with the art of innocence fading in the adult age group and how he wants to be the ‘catcher’, the savior of innocence in the children falling off the cliff in their transition to adulthood.
The negativities have filled him up, so much so that all he talks about is phonies, death, hate, sadness and the materialistic world.
Holden, who admits himself as a liar, is deliberately honest to the readers while narrating his story. It is very evident from the fact that he unfolds the mysteries of his life and talks about his own dishonesty. In his line “… you don’t know what interests you more till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most…” (Salinger 1951,ch24), it is clear that his drifting into the thoughts of Stradlater, his roommate or Robert Ackley, his neighbour and friend or the mother of a student he meets on the train, disguises the reader from what he actually wants.
Maybe he is fed up with the societal drama, the corruption, and hypocrisy and how people grow up to be ‘‘morons’’ (Salinger 1951, Ch6). He ends up calling himself a ‘moron’, for he thinks and worries too much. For instance, he says “When I really worry … (I) go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don´t go. I´m too worried to go. I don´t want to interrupt my worrying to go” (Salinger 1951, ch6). No doubts, the tone of the narrator is depressing and sad.
Right from the beginning till the end, the narrator makes his reasons clear, for not liking the people whom he comes across. Be it the one who killed the little James or his roommate Stradlater who bullies him, or Mr. Spenser, his History teacher, all of them have had a negative impact on his life. Then there are those girls whom he calls phonies, whom he strongly dislikes. He even talks about his brother D.B who is a great author but works as a screenwriter, which, in the eyes of the narrator is similar to selling his gifted talent. This makes him feel like people do anything when they come into to the grip of the materialistic world. Amongst all these people about whom he mentions, he seems to dearly like his younger brother Allie who died because of the leukemia attack. It can be deduced that all he ever liked was the children who hadn’t dived into adulthood and destroyed their innocence. We can infer this as his unwillingness to grow up.
Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him. (Salinger, ch9)
After being kicked out of Pencey Prep, he doesn’t go back to his home for the fear of facing his angry parents. Staying in another city is not a matter of joke, this shows that he was rich and mature enough to travel alone. Nothing works up for him. He is lonesome and tries to catch up with his old friends and even his ex. To kill his loneliness and in the wake of desires, he meets Sunny, the prostitute in a hotel room where he couldn’t just give himself up. He finds casual sex as a mark of disrespect to the women. He is even distressed with all the ‘Fuck you’ signs on the walls of the school and how the world has brought about filthiness even in the innocent minds. He might have faced something very bad in the past that the over-friendly gesture of Mr. Antolini pricks his conscious and he decides to spend the night at the station. Things get worse and he decides to finally take shelter far away in the woods. Before leaving he wants to say a final goodbye to Phoebe. He drops his plan when she insists on accompanying him all the way. He frightens her with the reasons for not being able to stay in the town and go to school. But did he himself ever follow any of those life lessons he taught to his sister? Does this dream of becoming the catcher in the rye laugh at his state of mind? However, all he ends up is being alone in the company of the only person he loves to be with – his lil’ sister Phoebe.
Phoebe manages to make his brother a bit comfortable in the air around. He feels like there is more to life than what he thought. However, the exact condition of the narrator is still unknown because he never talks about his treatments. He continues to think of himself as someone who would capitulate the innocence which is lost in the transition from childhood to being adults.