Themes of Society and Growing Up in The Catcher in the Rye
In reading J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye, one is compelled to have a very strong reaction to the contents of the book. Whether that reaction is negative or positive, it is unquestionable that the reader will give the novel a second thought after reading it. There could be many reasons why this novel has such an impact on the readers. It may be the use of Salinger's catchy slang phrases, bitingly sarcastic and usually negative, grabbing the attention of the reader. Another possibility is Holden, the novel's subject and lead character. "He describes everything as 'phony', is constantly in search of sincerity, and represents the first hero of adolescent angst"(Belcher). Or, it could be the originality of the perspective the book takes on the popular theme of the right of passage and the experience of growing up. Most likely, it was the overall tone of the book that incorporated all of these factors and combined them to form an inventive story line with a believable plot.
Holden Caulfield, described in the book as around age sixteen, is a classic antihero type: full of negative opinions, rarely a gentleman, not exactly the best looking boy in his prep school, yet somehow deserving of some sympathy. Holden is a character who is said to be motivated by his hormones and his own personal opinions alone. Unfortunately for him, both of these aspects of his character often get him into trouble. However despite all of this, Holden is a character that most teenagers relate to in many ways because his feelings are genuine and problems easy to relate to.
When studying a piece of literature, it is meaningful to note the historical background of the piece and the time at which it was written. The Catcher in the Rye was written in a literary style similar to prose, which was enhanced by the teenage slang of the 1950's. It is a widespread belief that much of Holden Caulfield's candid outlook on life reflects issues relevant to the youth of today (Davis 317-18). Before his novel, J.D. Salinger was of basic non-literary status, having written for years without notice from critics or the general public. The Catcher in the Rye was his first step onto the literary playing field. This initial status left Salinger, as a serious writer, almost unique as a sort of free agent, not bound to one or more schools of critics, like many of his contemporaries were. This ability to write freely, his status as a nobody in the literary world, was Salinger's greatest asset. Rather than to scope inside Salinger's mind and create a greatness for him, we are content instead to note him for what he is: "a beautifully deft, professional performer who gives us a chance to catch quick, half-amused, half-frightened glimpses of ourselves and our contemporaries, as he confronts us with his brilliant mirror images" (Stevenson 217).