The Catcher in the Rye
is about nothing. There's a flimsy sense of closure at the end (cf. use of the word 'here' in the final chapter) but it does little, if anything, to bring the story to a logical conclusion. Presented with a boring snapshot of Holden Caulfield's boring life, the reader is left with no real sense of the novel's purpose. Is this Salinger's hamfisted attempt at tearjerking, or is he simply unable to accurately depict the teenage experience? Caulfield's 'adventures' don't seem at all representative of the teenage years; if anything, Salinger seems to have slanderouly painted the common adolescent as a whiny, self-indulgent ne'er-do-well driven by only the most selfish considerations. I certainly wasn't anywhere as emo as Caulfield, and whenever I did feel 'depressed', I never considered killing myself or running away. We can't forget that emotions and rational decision-making aren't mutually exclusive.
I did have a few positive reactions to The Catcher in the Rye
. I started the book sure that I would hate it, but some moments caught me off guard and actually made me laugh out loud. In the end it was a real struggle to give it 2 stars. (I would have much preferred 2.5 stars were it possible.) Other moments were surprisingly discerning; for example, an off-hand remark by Caulfield about the piano struck me as noteworthy. As a serious pianist, I absolutely cannot stand playing casually while others sit there and watch me. Actual performance (i.e., in a recital or concert setting) doesn't bother me at all because I know the expectations: people are paying to see my performance, and by golly I'll give them a performance. But somehow the expectations are different when you have six or seven people you don't really know asking you to knock off some Chopin for their personal entertainment like you're some sort of extremely intelligent, highly trained monkey. Now I don't consider this behaviour particularly like that of a whiny teenager who needs a firmer grasp on reality, so it's quite interesting when Caulfield says almost the exact same thing (something along the lines of 'If I were a pianist, I'd play in a closet').
Now if Salinger intended Catcher
to be a work of satire, then I resign this review due to huge positional disadvantage. With a bit of work, Caulfield could be the perfect satirical hero -- capable of poking fun both at angsty adolescents and the adults who constantly mislabel them as such. And while there certainly are funny and satirical moments scattered throughout the novel (one of my favourite is Caulfield's constant (mis?)use of the word 'ironical' -- I don't think that word means what anyone
thinks it means), I don't think they're enough to decisively portray Caulfield as a satirical figure.
I ultimately couldn't shake the feeling that Caulfield wasn't terribly well-defined; sure he's phony like everyone else and that adds to the story's irony, but he's more than just phony. In some ways I think Salinger has erected Caulfield as the archetype for teenage angst and rebellion, but he isn't strong enough a character to stand up under that heavy weight.