J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has become, since its publication, an enduring classic of American literature. The novel is a favorite because of its humor, its mordant criticism of American middle-class society and its values, and the skill with which Salinger captures colloquial speech and vocabulary. The Catcher in the Rye, ironically enough, has received some criticism over the years because of its rough language, which Holden Caulfield cites to denounce. The novel’s story is told in retrospect by the main character, Holden, apparently while staying in a psychiatric hospital in California.
What Holden tells is the story of his disenchantment with his life and the direction it is taking him. Throughout the novel, Holden speaks of his loneliness and depression; the story of a few days in his life indicates how sad and lonely his search for moral values is in a society in which he finds them sorely lacking. As the novel begins, Holden has been expelled, immediately before Christmas, from an exclusive preparatory school in Pennsylvania. He knows his parents will be angry with him, so he decides to spend a few days in New York City before going home. In New York, Holden endures several adventures before explaining to his only real friend, his sister, Phoebe, just what it is he believes in. This discovery of some moral identity does not, however, save Holden from hospitalization.
From the beginning of the novel, readers see Holden as the champion of the downtrodden: children, for example (whom he sees as essentially innocent, fragile, and uncomplicated), and those who have been persecuted by others. At the same time, Holden shows no patience for hypocrisy and self-delusion (except his own; readers need to keep in mind that the narrator is institutionalized), as...
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