“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”
You know how good it feels when you just pick up a book with absolutely no high expectations but it turns out exactly what you needed to read to not feel alone. This is that book. No fantasy, no big dragons and wise wizards, nothing about any star crossed lovers, nothing about civil wars or fights against rascism, no murder mystery or thriller. Just a 16-year-old boy narrating a couple of days of his life after he’s expelled from his school. I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if I had known what it is about. I’m SO glad I didn’t.
There’s this thing about this book, that you either identify with it, or you don’t. There’s no in between. And that’s why a lot of people think that this book is another one of those young adult novels about a whiny teenager who rants about how he hates literally everything and everyone around him. And then there are other kind of people who can relate to it and I’m one of them. Because honestly, we’ve all been through that phase, that period of alienation and estrangement in our adolescent years when so much as our routine life depressed us and broke us down. And we still go through those emotions once in a while. It’s really surprising how you could feel so close to a book which was written 63 years ago. But then again, human emotions never change whether it’s decades ago or centuries.
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of this book, isn’t an exceptional A grade student, or a child prodigy or a sports star of his school. He’s just a below average student who flunks all of his subjects except English, but that doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent. He’s always curious for knowledge he finds interesting. He thinks that adults are all pretentious and despises this world for being so phony and fake. All he really likes is reading books and going to the museum. A few pages into this book and you would realize what kind of person he is. He loathes everything. He’s aimless. He’s angry. He’s devastated. He’s frustrated. He’s depressed. He doesn’t have anywhere to go, not even his own home. But among all of this, there’s one person he really cares about. And that’s his little sister, whose childhood innocence is real and honest, unlike everything else. And he wants nothing more than saving her from this corrupted, hollow, hypocritical world. After all, this is all this book is about. Saving childhood innocence. This boy is not an adult yet, but he’s mature enough to understand what most adult people are like. And he doesn’t want his sister or any other children in general to be exposed to that world of phoniness. And this is what the title actually means. As he says…
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
So seriously troubled and distressed this boy is, that I desperately wanted to read a happy ending for him. I needed to know that he finds a way in the end, that he somehow fits in somewhere. That he finds answers to all his troubles. That if life looks so bad at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it’ll not get better. To know that everything becomes okay in the end. But this book doesn’t have that end. It just ends on the same frustrated note with which it starts, probably J.D. Salinger’s way to tell the readers who relate to Holden to find their own ending. To find their own way. To find their own answers.
I would just say that if you have ever, ever in your life, felt like a misfit and have had that feeling of alienation from the rest of the world, this book is for you.