When the news about the death of J. D. Salinger on January 27, 2010 reached the millions of readers of the novel The Catcher in the Rye which was first published in 1951, then many were reminded of their own young dreams and ideas inspired by the fictional story about the 16 year old boy named Holden Caulfield from New York, who more than a generation ago was the inspiration to many young people all over the world.
Holden Caulfield was not a hero, in fact he was an anti hero, in sharp contrast to the otherwise heroic icons in the movies and books published at that time, shortly after the World War II. But it was most likely because of his anti hero status that he became an inspiration for so many young people.
This inspiration caused by J. D. Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye lasted for several decades, and it has to be mentioned again that the book was published long before The Korean War and also the war in Vietnam. And it was almost two decades before the world wide youth revolution in the late 1960ies and the early 1970ies. It might even be fair to claim that Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye became an inspiration for those who initiated the anti society flower power hippie movement.
In the novel The Catcher in the Rye J. D Salinger lets Holden Caulfield himself be the storyteller. Holden is from a well off New Yorker family, he has been studying at several expensive prep schools, but he has been kicked out of all of them. Holden tells the story in a place which he calls here, a place where he takes it easy (but from his story it is obvious that he is under some sort of a rehabilitation program, having conversations with a psychoanalyst).
The story is a flash back, it goes back to the time around the last Christmas vacation. Before the vacation Holden had been informed that he could no longer study at the expensive school Pencey Prep because he had failed in four out of the five subjects he had been studying during the last term. According to Holden himself he did not fail in the fifth subject, English, only because he had studied the same books at one of his previous prep schools. Knowing this one could imagine that Holden isn't intelligent. However, it might very well be the other way around; and his problems are instead caused by his intelligence, and in particular that his observant nature makes him realize how false, hollow and boring the upper class prep schools are.
We join Holden on his way, when he leaves Pencey Prep, but he does not go home to his parents. Instead he goes to New York, where we follow him on his way, and follow his conversations with various New Yorkers, such as taxi drivers, old teachers, hotel employees, pimps and prostitutes. On several occasions he ask a simple question (some would call it a childish question) The question is: Where do the ducks in the lakes of Central Park, New York go during the winter? This question is not childish but it should be regarded as a sincere metaphor, which is even reflecting his own dilemma of where to go in life.
Holden's tour in New York is not boring, and he illustrates how observant he is, and how good he is at understanding other people's problems. In spite of his observant and friendly nature, he gets into conflict with others, most severe with a prostitute and her pimp. In the end he gets broke and is terribly drunk.
In his depressed state of mind he remembers the poem If a Body Meet a Body Coming Through the Rye by Robert Burns when he hears a boy singing in the street if a body catch a body coming through the rye. These words make him calm for a while and he realizes what he wants to become in life: He wants to be present when there are a thousand kids playing in a big field of rye; and when those kids suddenly fall off the cliff, he wants to be there to catch them.
He ends up sleeping at the Grand Central Railway Station, New York. However, as Holden says It wasn't too nice. Don't ever try it. It will depress you. He leaves Grand Central Station and walks out in the streets of New York, now even more depressed than before, walking in the streets full of the people from New York who are shopping for Christmas.
While he walks he finally decides what he will do with his life. He will go away, hitchhiking to the west, and in California he will find a simple job. There, in California he will pretend to be a deaf mute so whenever people want to communicate with him, then they would have to write to him on a piece of paper; all people would soon get bored and even stop writing, and then he would be through with having any conversations for the rest of his life.
Holden Caulfield does not tell us how he gets across the USA, from New York to the State of California. He is irritated over people who ask him too many questions. In particular he is very irritated over a psychoanalyst who keeps on asking him if he is going to apply himself when he goes back to school. As Holden says: It is such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you are going to do till you do it.
The book by J. D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye is even today very inspirational to read, so if you haven't read it, then get hold of the book (And if you did read it many years ago, then read it again). J. D. Salinger was completely against making The Catcher in the Rye into a movie, and he did all he could to keep Hollywood away from the novel; today many are hoping that The Catcher in the Rye will end up on the silver screen, but until that happens: Get hold of the book, - and enjoy reading the novel, it will give you happy moments!
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