The Pequod Review:
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, is one of the most memorable characters in all of modern fiction. He is perhaps less than admirable in his extreme self-absorption; his criticism of the hypocrisy and “phoniness” in the adult world are based on such petty examples that it seems J.D. Salinger did not intend for us to take them seriously. Nonetheless, he is a tragic and sympathetic figure, as he looks for love and meaning and human connection, but finds himself disappointed at every turn. Damaged and traumatized, Holden has only the weapons of sarcasm, irony, and anger to shield himself from pain.
While Holden is an engaging character, what I admire most about the novel is Salinger’s clear and vivid prose. He writes in a realistic syntax that matches how people actually speak and think — not in formal sentences, but in clauses strung together, full of natural slang:
When you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and they're pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody's be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that, exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way—I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it.
The result is a supremely enjoyable book that has rightly found its place in the hearts and minds of adolescents — and anyone else struggling to find their way in the world.