Catcher in the Rye remains fresh, challenging after many years — and repeated readings
Between the Lines is a column written for each issue by staff writer Olivia Dorow Hovland. Each column expounds on the provacative themes and ideas found in current literary works.
Holden Caulfield is arguably the most infamous teenage protagonist in literary history. His caustic, egocentric narrative was first published 60 years ago, but his voice and his rebellion still appeal to modern audiences. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger created a character so unique and dynamic that his name is enough to spark conversation among readers of all ages.
Many authors don’t dare to stray from the typical narration style characterized by eloquent diary-entry style writing. In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger rebelled against that drowsy norm. Instead, Caulfield narrates the novel in a stream of consciousness. The book is essentially his thoughts as they come to him, rough and unedited. As a result, the readers are presented with a character that grates on them. Many novels are idealistic in the way they portray their characters or the events that happen in the story. But The Catcher in the Rye keeps the plot and the diction rugged. Caulfield as a narrator is consequently more relatable, more controversial, and more timeless. Because Salinger did not shy away from exposing Caulfield’s inner thoughts, his character became that much more beloved.
While The Catcher in the Rye is a story about a teen who happens to be a bit rough around the edges, it is also a story about rebelling against expectations. As a senior, looking forward to graduation and the college years that I have ahead of me, I feel more kinship to Holden now than when I read Catcher in the Rye originally. After 13 years at the same school, I share in his need to get out and see new faces, experience new things. I feel as if I have been put in a niche by teachers, classmates and friends. And while some things remain the same, there is much about me that has changed over the course of 13 years. I feel as if I have outgrown the perceptions that people have of me. Over the years I have been branded as nerdy, quirky, and introverted, but those labels don’t fit me anymore, if they ever did. Now, people don’t take the time to adapt their previous perceptions of me to more accurately fit the changed person in front of them. Time has made them lazy and I’m tired of being overlooked. Like Holden, I crave a personal reinvention.
The beauty of Catcher in the Rye is that it is a novel that is designed specifically for youth. The language is simple but the themes are both complex and relatable. It doesn’t condemn those who don’t conform to social norms. Instead it legitimizes everyone. Each person’s perspective is valid and Salinger, through Caulfield, was one of the first to step up and put this type of story out there.