Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger


This was a curious, little book that I brought with me to read on vacation.  I had no idea what it was about.  The cover (see image) is as plain as can be, with nothing written on the back cover or in the beginning to indicate what I was getting myself into; and there was only a dedication page: To My Mother.  I figured: It can't be that bad.  He dedicated it to his mother!

Well, the language was a little jarring for my taste - speaking of the 245 times the author used God's name in vain.  By page two I disagreed that it would be the kind of story a son would have dedicated to his own mother.  I am truly shocked that this is literature for high school students because I think there are better works that can be used to enlighten young people.  But that is in regards to the wording, not the message.

That aside, I think The Catcher in the Rye is an effective, entertaining read.  Honestly, I laughed my way through it (while crossing out the swear words).  The author cleverly captured the sarcastic exaggerations of adolescence and the private, personal contemplations of young people.  However, I found it paradoxical that Holden, the main character, was mindful and irritated by all the phoniness in the world, and yet he contributed to it.  He was a lying, sarcastic smarty-pants.  But I suppose that was the intended irony.

The heaviest question on my mind was who the "catcher in the rye" was or what it was.  At some point, Holden overheard a little boy singing a song with those words, and it made him happy, for once. (Holden was always sad or depressed about the state of things in his world.) That is the first connection to the title.  But later he learned that the song is really a poem, and he did not have the words quite right. His younger sister, Phoebe, whom he adored, corrected him.

The poem was written in 1782 by Robert Burns and has strong sexual overtones.  But Holden does not know this because he received the wrong words and interpreted it incorrectly using his worldview and personal emotions.  You see, while Holden was a conniving liar, he also had a vulnerable side to him. He was perceptive of the dangers in the world, including the loss of innocence and youth, and he felt an urgent persistence to protect young children and keep them from this inevitable end.  It was so surprising to me, that I found myself questioning his behavior because it seemed abnormal.  However, since the setting is in the late 1940s, post WWII, and Holden, aged 17, still retained some of his own innocence regarding sexuality, I want to believe his behavior would not have been unusual during that time period.  A part of him still wanted the world to do what was right and good, including protecting innocence and treating girls with honor and respect.  (That meant no casual sex.)

Once Phoebe corrected Holden on the wording of the poem, he explained how he would like to grow up to be the catcher in the rye, the one who catches all of the children playfully running through the rye and coming to the edge of a cliff that they cannot see.  He wants to protect them from that dangerous, wicked, evil world that they will inevitably come to, while not expecting it, because they are only enjoying life and having fun.  That will end once they grow up and have to endure the pressures and phoniness in the mean, unfair, adult world.

And that was the meaning of The Catcher in the Rye - according to my perspective, of course - and I am very glad that I took the chance to read it.

For the fun of it, I found a song version from "Mogambo" starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly.  In this clip, Ava sings "Comin' Thro the Rye."  And following are the words to the poem by Robert Burns.

Comin thro' the Rye

BY ROBERT BURNS
Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
     Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie
     Comin thro' the rye.

[CHORUS.]
          Oh Jenny 's a' weet poor body
               Jenny 's seldom dry,
          She draigl't a' her petticoatie
               Comin thro' the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need a body cry.
          Oh Jenny 's a' weet, &c.

Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro' the glen;
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need the warld ken!
          Oh Jenny 's a' weet, &c.

Gin a body meet a body, comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry;
Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I;
But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the well,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body tell;
Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I,
But a the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the town,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body gloom;
Ilka Jenny has her Jockey, ne'er a ane hae I,
But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

7 comments:

  1. I'm strangely & newly intrigued to read this one. Not for the language, but because I read the opening a few days ago & liked that it was so... weird. :)

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    1. It actually wasn't all that weird, but rather sarcastic and witty. Obviously, I don't care for offensive language, but this one will stay with me for a long time b/c of its subtle message hidden in what seemed like a random narration about a young guy's aimless wanderings through NYC.

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  2. I enjoyed reading your review because you have spared me the narrative ( will read it myself) but gave me a great analysis that I can think about.
    The thinking started while reading your review. I started making a comparision b/t Salinger and John Updike. I just read Updike's biography and knew Salinger was one of the writers that influenced him. JU was 19 when JDS book was published. JU even refers to JSD in his forward in the book The Early Stories. Both writers exposed the "phoniness in the mean, unfair, adult world".

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    1. Thanks! I do hope you'll enjoy the story.

      It is just fascinating to learn who influences who in the world of literature. I am not familiar with Updike. I looked up some of his books, but The Witches of Eastwick was the only one I knew, and that was only because I remember the movie.

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    2. I would highly recommend the 2014 biography by Adam Begley 'Updike'. I stumbled upon this book and have discoverd an often forgotten writer, John Updike. I reviewed the bio on my blog if you want to get an idea what it was like. I hope Begley wins the Pultizer this year for the book...it is THAT good!

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    3. Oh, thanks for the suggestion. Wow!

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  3. An excellent review Ruth. I'm not huge fan.I had a pretty idyllic childhood and easy transition from teen to adult. I seldom suffered the angst, or felt phoniness in the adults closest to me. I guess that's rare, and why so many love Catcher in the Rye, and I can take it or leave it. It's good to learn how others struggle though. I'm glad to have read it, but I probably won't pick it up again. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2012/05/animal-farm-by-george-orwell-1946-7.html

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