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Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye
I can relate to Holden Caulfield
Austin Kong

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is about a troubled teen named Holden Caulfield. The story is set around 1950 in New York City and deals with the alienation and isolation of adolescence, as well as the hypocrisy and “phoniness,” as Holden likes to call it, of adults and other teens who try to mimic adult behavior. Holden’s judgmental character doesn’t let him see his own flaws, however.

After being kicked out of his fourth school, Pencey Prep, Holden leaves for New York and begins to roam the streets, bumping into strangers and familiar people. He starts to examine the world around him, especially the adults he meets. The author juxtaposes Holden wandering around the city and being free with the adult world where all the fun has to end, and Holden, in his mind, will become a person he despises.

In one scene, Holden makes fun of Ackley, a student in his dorm. He criticizes his religious beliefs, calling the monks and clergy phony, just like other adults. He also ridicules an alumnus of Pencey, Ossenburger, whom he considers fake and pretentious. He pokes fun at Ossenburger for making a speech to the students that Holden thinks is filled with hypocrisy. Holden knows Ossenburger was only invited because he gave a lot of money to the school.

Innocence and Purity

This book is interesting to me because I see Holden as someone who is going on a personal journey. Holden grows as the story progresses and learns new things from different characters in the story like his little sister, Phoebe, and Mr. Antolini, his former English teacher. Mr. Antolini is the only adult Holden admires because he respects Holden and understands his problems. He warns Holden however, that he is “falling into a hole” he’ll never come out of.

image by Little, Brown and Company

These characters impact Holden a lot. For example, Holden loves Phoebe and sees her as an innocent and pure child, untouched by the corruption of adults. She is the person he seems to care most about. But in some ways, Phoebe is more mature than Holden. She plays an important role in the end when she finally convinces Holden to grow up and go to back to school the next semester.

I can relate to Holden’s struggles as he faces the reality of the adult world he must soon enter. Sometimes I feel like I have to isolate myself in order to escape the real world. As a teenager, I am pressured to act more mature or be an adult, especially when planning my future such as thinking about colleges I want to go to.

I also share some of Holden’s mistrust of adults. Sometimes I find they can be corrupt and deceitful regarding their intentions. Adults often hide their true identities when meeting someone for the first time, just so they can make a positive first impression. Children get complicated when they get older and are trying out how to be an adult. I’ve encountered friends who are “fake” or “phony” even as a teenager.

To me, Holden’s story is a dark and scary take on what it means to be a teenager. He is rebellious, getting drunk, flirting with older women, and even allowing a prostitute to come up to his hotel room. Yet throughout the book he seems conflicted about sex.

It was shocking for me to read a book about a teenager that depicts explicit scenes involving sex, drugs, and abuse. I found myself questioning whether Holden does these things to escape reality, or whether these are aspects of adulthood he is struggling against.

But what’s most interesting about Holden to me and sets him apart from many other teens—then and now—is that he’s an independent thinker. This puts him at a disadvantage socially since people see him as strange or delinquent. It’s easy to understand why he is an outcast and he often gets depressed from his loneliness. Yet Holden stands up like a rock in a fast flowing stream, unwilling to let others decide his destiny.

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