Known as the literary bench-mark of the teenage experience, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ boasts an indelible cultural legacy as the catalyst for Young Adult fiction. But the problem with modern classics is the hype – and I just didn’t get it. Perhaps I’m not teenage enough to relate to the alienation, which is depressing enough as it is.
The biggest obstruction to identifying with the work was Holden. Rather than a kindred spirit, articulating my frustrations with the ‘phoney’ world, he sounded self-obsessed and unempathetic, incapable of looking outside his own worldview. Granted, this interiority seeks to emphasise the isolation of the ‘misunderstood teen’, but after 230 pages of self-congratulatory quirky superiority, it became more than a little taxing. Whilst reading I found a cinema ticket bookmark which dated back to 2014 – 14-year-old me evidently wasn’t too impressed either.
I only started enjoying myself in the last 20 pages. This was mostly due to Phoebe, the silently brilliant younger sister (totally relate) who helps Holden realise his self-destruction. The one-page epilogue feels like an anti-climax after the pages of Modernist stream-of-consciousness description, and was more depressing than liberating. The likely return to a new school meant Holden underwent no transformative developmental arc, and the small process of change with his younger sister was ultimately stilted by a return to routine. My frustration at the world’s punishing continuation was the most ‘teenage angst’ I felt during my time with Holden.
I accept the book’s historical relevancy and cultural importance but argue that Holden no longer relates to 21stcentury teenage living. The commercial globalisation of youth through social media is worlds apart from Salinger’s expression of isolation and misunderstanding – with so many connected, it’s near on impossible to be alienated. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is truly a child of its time, speaking to the contemporary fears of 1950s Western youth in a lexicon of outdated colloquialisms and attitudes.
I probably won’t be reaching for this book any time soon, but I’m glad I read it before the inevitability of adulthood saps my teenage freedom (this is the most Holden sentence I can produce).