Following the hardships of World War Two, writers began to open up new , and largely unexplored subjects. Your Reading Passport journey continues with the 1950’s, a decade that saw the ‘rise of the teenager’. This week we look at a novel by the American author J D Salinger who explores the not-belonging of adolescence in his enduring classic “The Catcher in the Rye”.
The Catcher in the Rye is the great tragi-comedy of troubled adolescence. Holden Caulfield, 17 years old, is highly strung, fragile and unpredictable. His voice in the novel is rapid and excited, and relates all the “madman stuff” that happens to him after he ran away from his expensive school the previous year and holed up in New York with the last of his grandmother’s birthday money. He has increasingly bizarre encounters with suspicious cab drivers, a menacing hotel elevator guy, some “whorey-looking blondes”, some old school friends, and assorted “tiny kids”. All these encounters link together to create an accelerating drama of emotional chaos that ends up with him planning to go out West as a deaf-mute.
The novel is written in an adolescent voice full of jokes, ramblings and complaints about “phoney” adults. Holden Caulfield’s tragedy is that he is trying himself out in various situations, but doesn’t feel comfortable anywhere; not with adults, or the tiny kids, or even with his older brother and kid sister. Salinger is able to define with clarity and sensitivity the adolescent’s feeling of not belonging.
If you like The Catcher in the Rye why not also read Salinger’s Nine Stories/ For Esme with Love and Squalor (1953), a collection of wry, funny and tragic stories.