J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye offered something to me that had never happened before in the entirety of my reading life. Well, actually, it offered several things along those lines, but one stood out to me particularly. After reading only the first three or four chapters, I decided it was one of my favorite books.
I didn’t care how the plot turned out; I didn’t care how Holden Caulfield’s character developed. I didn’t care whether Holden stayed in New York City or went home or ran off to join the circus. I immediately fell in love with the narrative style, the vivid supporting characters, the vintage-yet-timeless atmosphere of the setting, and above all, Holden himself and all that he symbolizes. The fact that this was a classic I was being forced to read for school completely fell by the wayside. I read it as an extraordinary social commentary–not to mention an enjoyable, if somewhat depressing, story.
What is it about The Catcher in the Rye that appeals to me so much, besides the aforementioned basics? What launches it from simply an excellent book to an absolute favorite? As I’ve said to many, “Holden Caulfield is my spirit animal.” He and I see eye to eye on a lot. Given, we have vastly different outer selves–I doubt Holden would associate himself with such a nerd–but I saw many reflections. I’ll admit that The Catcher in the Rye‘s frequenting of banned books lists caters to my rebellious side. I love the idea that such a controversial book could attain such towering literary status.
Finally, I’m fascinated by the book’s central theme of death and how our society in general views it. I’m interested in the way these views effect those in mourning. What I take away from The Catcher and the Rye, at the heart of all the other commentary, is that the way we try to act as if death does not exist makes it impossible to properly grieve and move on, and that this is essentially what caused Holden’s depression and descent into mental instability. “If a body catch a body coming through the rye”: Holden wants to be able to save all the children from going over the cliff. After the deaths of his brother Allie and his classmate James Castle were swept aside, Holden was unable to move on and accept death for what it is. His is an eternal sort of character: stuck on a worn-down carousel of a life, read over and over again.