The novel The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D. Salinger, follows the crazed mind of Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy going against the system; rebelling against society’s norms. The novel is set in the past tense, whereby Holden chronologically narrates an eventful weekend following his events from Pencey Prep. Through structural techniques, Salinger has purposely emphasized the workings of Holden’s mind. First, we see how Salinger has portrayed the crazy and cynical thoughts of Holden when he has various encounters with different people.
We then see how Salinger has used an extended metaphor contrasting adulthood and childhood. And lastly, we see Holden’s resigned state at the end of the novel. Salinger’s way of presenting the novel displays how Holden relates to our generation. Holden chronologically recounts a weekend over a short period of time, recording any and all moments and interactions with other people. Salinger has done this written in first person to illustrate Holden’s character to be a troubled 16 year old teen.
We learn that Holden is very judgmental. His judgement can be extremely funny and witty. However, to this day it still has a universal appeal, but in a different way. Holden today is recognized as the ultimate anti-hero and voice of the disaffected adolescent. Above all, Salinger’s main reason for using first person narration was to show Holden’s marginalization. This has been done extremely effectively, as we are able to empathize and relate to him (most of the time). He is constantly pushing people away even though he craves any attention. His encounter with Mr. Spencer is an example of this exclusion from society. Holden goes to visit Mr. Spencer in his home, but he finds himself being lectured about old failed history papers and his future. Holden doesn’t take this well, because he doesn’t like being confronted by his actions. Change is a foreign concept to him, and he thinks that it is merely for the benefit of others; not himself. He abruptly leaves which shows how incapable he is with dealing with these types of situations. He’s barely able to handle any situations involving human interaction, let alone these complex ones. Even if Holden has a certain degree of respect towards someone, he pushes them away like he does to everyone. Structurally, first person narrative gives the novel a whole another dimension, because ironically we feel like Holden is trusting us. In the 1950’s the novel was extremely unacceptable, , but in today’s society it’s more relatable, because of advances in the way we think and act towards people. we still recognize that Holden can be irrational, but we appreciate his point of view. In a lot of respects he’s like us, I can relate to Holden and probably so can many other teens. Salinger was an author that was ahead of his time. He has helped create the society we live in today; one which Holden Caulfield is not marginalized. His experience and voice has become the norm. Holden is on the edge of adulthood. Salinger makes it evident that he doesn’t want to grow up and leave his childhood behind. He has difficulties connecting with people, especially adults who he would class most as phonies. By the end of the novel, readers are unsure whether he is in the position to mature and become an adult. After many attempts to transition into adulthood, such as hiring a prostitute and fending for himself in a big city, Holden realizes that it isn’t all that great and he does just want to be younger again. He even treasures his childhood so much to the extent that he feels as though he has to preserve the innocence of other children, such as his younger sister Phoebe. Holden says, I keep picturing all these little kids in a big field of rye and all And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff(Salinger 197). The field of rye symbolizes childhood and over the cliff symbolizes adulthood. In a field of rye, you’re surrounded by rye, which symbolizes how kids are oblivious to their futures and the responsibility that comes with growing up. Adulthood can come pretty quickly, and Holden parallels this sensation to falling off a cliff. He chooses to work back and stop other young people facing adulthood. Ironically, this puts him in a position of responsibility over his younger sister Phoebe. Salinger has included this ongoing contrast to further help the reader understand Holden’s perspective and his marginalization from the adult world. The reader sees a side of Holden that is respectable and we empathize with him, because growing up can be scary and hard. Holden’s portrayal of his parents and the school acting in loco parentis are negative, but ensure we align with his point of view. Approaching the end of the novel, we discover Holden’s story is told in recount from a mental institution. Salinger’s use of past tense and time makes a huge impact on the reader. It’s almost as if we’ve spent a lifetime with Holden and know him intimately, which is strange, because he’s completely alienated himself from society. Shakespearean play makes parallels with Holden’s story, whilst being comedic and tragic, we are so caught up in the story that time becomes immaterial. When the time comes, it is questionable whether Holden has developed as a character, because the ending is ambiguous. Holden’s sign of, recognized as one of the best 10 closing lines of all time by The Guardian , Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody., is unclear. The reader isn’t sure whether Holden will fulfill his promise of recovery which is suggested as he watches Phoebe go around on the carousel at the park. He is still shackled by some of the same issues he has throughout the book. Ending up in a mental institution proves this, and shows he has completely lost touch with reality. On the other hand, there is some evidence that shows that he is finally emerging from his old cynical ways and self doubt. He starts to acknowledge and value others, rather than dismissing them and rejecting them when he says, Missing everybody(Salinger 57). This reveals that he is no longer bitter about people and gives the reader a taste of hope. He even says he misses Stradlater and Ackley, his friends’ who constantly annoy him throughout the novel. Holden has learned more about people in three days, than he has in his entire life. To conclude, Salinger has made a lasting impact on not only me, but many other teenagers and adults. His use of structural techniques opened doors into the mind of . Through the use of first person narrative, extended metaphor (adulthood and childhood) and past tense and time, Salinger has portrayed a character who is so alienated from society, but ironically one of the most relatable in our generation.