How does the narrative structure of The Catcher in the Rye impact its appeal?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is told by Holden as he is sitting in a mental hospital in California. His narrative might be the result of a psychiatrist asking him to write down his experiences that led him to having his mental breakdown. This might explain, in part, the reason behind his casual and intimate voice demonstrated throughout the text. Holden writes as if he is talking to someone who has asked about his story, but who is not a part of his family, because he opens with the following:

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth" (1).

Holden seems to avoid what he thinks his doctor might want to know and writes about what interests him, or what experiences he believes led him to the California hospital.

The narrative starts with Holden's current situation in the hospital and then flashes back to the Friday before his mental collapse. The story flows chronologically from that point through the weekend, but along the way there are more flashbacks that help to explain Holden's life experiences since his brother Allie's death. Tragic events such as his brother's death, a classmate's suicide, and getting kicked out of three schools affect his mental functions to the point where he doesn't trust anyone. The book's appeal comes in as readers not only feel sorry for Holden, but can also relate to his angst and anxiety of growing up and facing adulthood. It is also interesting to find out what a lonely teenager would do in New York City for a weekend without any supervision.

mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden Caulfield serves as an unreliable narrator in The Catcher in the Rye. He tells the story from a hospital in California a few months after having a mental and physical breakdown in Central Park in New York City.

The narration in J.D. Salinger's work is masterful, as it allows readers to sit on the couch, so to speak, with Holden, and hear him be psychoanalyzed by a therapist. As a result of this technique, the reader knows he or she is privy only to the thoughts Holden wishes to share and to listen to the story from his perspective.

One of the best examples of Holden being unreliable occurs in the coffee shop scene with Sally Hayes as he gets excited and begs her to run away with him to get married. Sally's actions with Holden are patient and loving, but, to Holden, she is a "royal pain in the ass," and he repeatedly says he never knew why he called her.

However, the most exciting aspect of the narrative is when Holden lets his guard down while telling a story. He does this several times, and it's apparent on the page as these streams of consciousness are written in single paragraphs and might span multiple pages. Two examples of this occur, once when Holden is explaining Allie's baseball glove and another when he's explaining why he loves the museum so much.

Overall, the narrative structure is what makes the work such a classic. Salinger's use of Holden's voice creates a likeable, engaging character in what would otherwise be a downer of a story.

tpisano eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Catcher in the Rye is a first person narrative told through the eyes of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield.  This structure adds to the appeal of the reader for many reasons.  One reason is that Holden addresses the reader directly and thereby engages them in the story.  The reader feels as if they are actually speaking with Holden.  For example, Holden often says: “If you really want to hear about it…” appealing to our senses as a reader and making us a part of the story. As the character evolves the reader seems to evolve with him.  The text engages the reader and connects them to the novel.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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