The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s only full-length novel, is the work that made him famous and for which he is remembered by high school and college students throughout America and much of the world. It has been translated into nearly every major language and continues to be assigned reading in many high school and college classrooms (though it has also been banned from many high school classrooms for allegedly obscene language and sexual situations). Its utterly convincing portrayal of the thoughts, words, and feelings of a troubled adolescent has permanently influenced entire generations of young people, as well as writers throughout the world.
The book opens with these words from Holden: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 all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. . . . I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.
The opening paragraph is emblematic of the book in several ways. First, it introduces the reader immediately to Holden’s essential character—his cynicism, irreverence, and complicated mixture of frankness and evasiveness. Eventually the reader comes to learn that “out here” is actually a psychiatric hospital in California and that Holden has been sent there for observation and treatment, not merely to “take it easy.” Second, the language Holden uses to begin his story gives further insight into his character. Several phrases appear here which will serve as refrains for the novel: “If you really want to hear about it,” “I don’t feel like . . . ,” “if you want to know the truth,” and “madman.” Holden’s language is both representative of the typical adolescent of his time and place and indicative of his personal fears and frustrations. “If you really want to hear about it” and “if you want to know the truth” reflect Holden’s despair that most people really do not want to know the truth. “I don’t feel like . . .” demonstrates the emotional paralysis that contributes to Holden’s breakdown, and “madman” expresses his fear of going crazy, not only going crazy himself, but the world going crazy as well. “This madman stuff” is everything that led up to Holden’s collapse, beginning with his ejection from Pencey for “failing everything but English.”
Holden begins his account with a description of the school and the “phonies” in it: administrators, teachers, and students. Phoniness is one of the many things that...
(The entire section is 1112 words.)