words by Thomas Meakins
J. D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is for me one of the most influential books, as it exemplifies the true psyche of many adolescent teenagers. Written in 1951, at a time in which there was disintegration between parents and children, Salinger’s novel can be hugely significant even today. In a post-modern world where teenagers are engrossed by new technology, and coinciding with the yielding of a homogenous society that is forming a large melting pot; the youth of today are susceptible to a deep confusion with regards to where one stands in the world. In addition, there is a great struggle in maintaining individuality, and perhaps most importantly is the underlining feeling of intense anxiety for the future. Catcher in the Rye is a testament to modern literature that represents the younger generation. It is a quintessential book embodying the theme of ‘teenage angst’, epitomizing this particular phase in life that is a pivotal time for many. The novel encapsulates this notion of angst in which many adolescents seem to experience, characterised by feelings of alienation and estrangement.
Today, as students go to university in an attempt to broaden their horizons, they are thrown into a melting pot that can at times become somewhat stressful. Emotionally and mentally demanding, students are faced with the need for a sense of belonging. However, they are also pre-occupied with the issues of relationships, sexuality, and forming personalities. Catcher in the Rye reassures the reader that this is a common symptom of growing up and maturing. Famous for its iconic protagonist, Holden Caulfield is a down-to-earth character that takes the form of anti-hero, in which many teenagers are able to relate to – ‘the star of their own tragedy’, and this is due to the particular writing style of Salinger.
The book is written in a subjective manner, whereby Holden describes the people and the environment around him solely through his personal perspective. His harsh, cynicism that creates this down-to-earth character is reflected even in the opening line, in which he starts with ‘the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’
In addition, Salinger incorporates colloquial language including the use of some profanity, to portray Holden as a rebellious character that speaks the lingo of his own will. This for me is important as it stops youngsters from being alienated when reading literature as they can relate to the way Holden speaks, as opposed to reading novels written in a formal, proper language that adheres to a set of old-fashioned principles. Catcher in the Rye is influential as it induces the reader to empathise for this anti-hero, by evoking in them feelings of loneliness and the desire for a sense of belonging. To conclude, it is perhaps worth mentioning that Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon, was arrested with this book on him in which he added inscriptions. Maybe he felt that Lennon had become a ‘phony’, something which Holden despised.