"The Catcher in the Rye." It's a novel frequently extolled by literature professors and temperamental teenagers alike, villainized by so-called family values groups and scrutinized by critics.
I've been thinking a lot about unfathomable teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield as of late, and I'm here to tell you that what you've heard is right - "The Catcher in the Rye" truly is the personification of the young, and no one should be permitted to make it through their youth without joining Holden on his madcap odyssey through New York.
The novel, written by J.D. Salinger, is so celebrated perhaps because of the manner in which it encapsulates numerous aspects of the human condition. One of its primary discussions revolves around self-image and self-delusion, two hefty themes that haunt each and every teenager at least once. Holden is perhaps the world's harshest critic: he condemns "phoniness" in others, denounces human interaction, and perceives himself as victimized by the world at large.
However, Holden is guilty of the sins that he criticizes in others. He fabricates a fantasy of adulthood as an environment of hypocrisy and superficiality, whereas childhood is cast as a world of innocence, simplicity and honesty. "The Catcher in the Rye" is ultimately emblematic of the way that we tell ourselves stories in order to live, of the necessity of deception as self-preservation, of the way that the things we tell ourselves can become our truths.
I think Holden's resistance to change, however, is what truly elevates the novel into more than a timeless masterpiece. As evidenced by his fantasy regarding the catcher in the rye and by his fascination with the perpetually immobilized exhibits in the Natural History Museum, Holden wants to live in a world where nothing ever changes, a world where everything is simple, comprehendible, infinite.
Who hasn't wished Holden's wish? Who hasn't wished to evade the responsibilities of adult life, to prolong adolescence, to stay forever young and forever unburdened? As college students, we're more frightened by the great unknown of adult life now than ever before, frightened by uncertainty, by a lack of security, by failure. Like Holden, we're frightened by a world that we can't understand.
"The Catcher in the Rye" is a heart-wrenching novel about the sensation of wavering between childhood and adulthood, about the pain of unwanted change, about the manner in which humans connect and disconnect from one another. It encapsulates a person that we've all been for at least a day of our youth: angry, conflicted, unsure of both ourselves and of our place in the world.
At the conclusion of the novel, Holden says, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you'll start missing everybody." Holden's words are emblematic of the struggle of becoming an adult, of losing those we cherish whether by distance or by spirit, of that achingly familiar tug associated with being pulled between two extremes.
Ultimately, "The Catcher in the Rye" is about the tension and tenderness of growing up, about the terrifying nature of our entry into the adult world, about the necessity of living authentically. The novel forces us to evaluate our place in the world and to reconcile with the shortcomings both in others and in ourselves.
Above all else, it forces us to hold a mirror up to our own lives, to look at ourselves in the way that Holden would, and to question the way we live. I think Holden would agree with me when I say that a bit of self-examination would do all of us some good.
- Westenfeld is a freshman from Fort Wayne, Ind., majoring in creative writing and English literature. firstname.lastname@example.org