Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger has certainly caused some very different reactions amongst the First Wednesday Book Club members! It brought up a number of questions of what life was like in December 1949 in the USA. The book features the memories of teenager Holden Caulfield of events occuring a year earlier and is written from a first person perspective. The 2 main questions asked by the group were: why did we like it and; why did we NOT like it?
Why did we like it?
- Kids can empathise/identify with the story;
- It was not introspective – showed part of being a teenager;
- The voice was very much of that era;
- Holden had a conscience – others in the book did not;
- Holden showed unconditional love for his sister.
Why we did NOT like it?
- The character was unlikable and troubled;
- Holden appears as a ‘phoney’;
- The exploits of Holden seem far fetched for a 16 year old;
- Holden’s attitudes were revolting;
- Questions were raised on the reliability and honesty of his memories of past events.
Other thoughts raised during the discussion were: that the book may be a plea by the author for us all to stop and consider what rich people are doing to their kids – creating spoilt useless kids who will grow up to rule the USA; the book is simply about mental illness and what it feels like from the inside and; was Holden autistic or sexually abused as a child?
The final question posed was – is it a Classic?
The answer was YES – kids act the same today as they did then so will always be relevant to understanding the teen pysche.