JD Salinger, also known as Jerome David Salinger, is an American novelist and short story writer. Critics and readers alike recognize Salinger as one of the most popular and influential writers. His only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, drew such great attention during the fifties and sixties that those years have been called the age of Holden Caulfield (Contemporary Literary Critiscm, Vol. 12). Salinger is a master of contemporary dialect and idiomatic expression. He created in Holden Caulfield a character who became the prototype of alienated adolescence for an entire generation of Americans.
The Catcher in the Rye has been banned even recently from a few libraries, schools, and bookstores for the starkness of its language and attitudes and the realism of some of its settings.
Although Salinger has fallen out of critical favor because of his sentimentality, it is generally agreed that Catcher has yet to be surpassed in its portrayal of the pains and pleasures of a youth searching for love and direction.
In all his work Salinger draws upon the experience of his own life. For instance, his parents shared the same backgrounds as do those of his fictive Glass family. An undistinguished student, Salinger flunked out of private high school. His family sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy, the model the Catchers Pencey Prep (Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 3).
The protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is one of these American heroes, but with a significant difference. He seems to be engaged in both sorts of quests at once; he needs to go home and he needs to leave it. Unlike the other American knight errants, Holden seeks Virtue second to love. He wants to be good. When the little children are playing in the rye-field on the clifftop, Holden wants to be the one who catches them before they fall off the cliff. Like these American heroes, Holden is a wanderer, for in order to be good he has to be more of a bad boy than the puritanical Huck could have imagined. Holden has had enough of both Hannibal, Missouri, and the Mississippi; and his tragedy is that when he starts back up the river, he has no place to go- save, of course, a California psychiatrists couch (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12).
Holdens quest takes him outside society; yet the grail he seeks is the world and the grail is full of love. To be a catcher in the rye in this world is possible only at the price of leaving it. To be good is to be a case, a bad boy who confounds the society of men. So Holden seeks the one role which would allow him to be a catcher, and that role is the role of the child. As a child, he would be condoned, for a child is a sort of savage and a parish because he is innocent and good. But it is Holdens tragedy that he is sixteen, and like Wordsworth he can never be less. (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 8)Holden does not suffer from the inability to love, but he does despair of finding a place to bestow his love. The depth of Holdens capacity for love is revealed in his final words, as he sits in the psychiatric ward musing over his nightmarish adventures. (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 5) Holden does not refuse to grow up so much as he agonizes over the state of being grown up. The innocent world of childhood is amply represented in The Catcher in the Rye, but Holden, as frustrated, disillusioned, anxious hero, stands for modern man rather than merely for the modern adolescent. He is self-conscious and often ridiculous, but he is also an anguished human being of special sensitivity. He is often childishly ingenuous and his language is frequently comic. Holden must be seen as both a representative and a critic of the modern environment, as the highly subjective tone of the novel suggests. (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12)The Catcher in the Rye is an important articulation of one of the possible responses which man may make to an essentially destructive life experience. Holden reasons that there is no fulfillment in the adult world. It can only offer man frustration or corruption. The only worthwhile task to which he can devote himself is that of that protector who stops children before they enter the world of destruction and phoniness and keeps them in a state of arrested innocence. What Salinger leaves us with in this novel is an often biting image of the absurd contemporary milieu. The idea of perpetuating the innocence of childhood is a philosophically untenable position (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 5)Holdens feelings also predominate over his experiences of things outside himself. Each of his experiences generally arouses within him an immediate emotional response, over which he exerts no rational control. Because Holden generally reacts to things outside himself with no conception of the causal relationship between his experiences and his emotional responses, he views his world as a place where things usually happen to him all of a sudden as immediate occurrences. One might stress, they happen to him as though by chance: Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening; Then something terrible happened just as I got in the park; Then, all of a sudden, I got into this big mess. It is important to realize that this sense of immediacy accompanying everything that happens to Holden divides his existence into a temporal sequence of seemingly isolated instances occurring one after the other (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3). Holdens sense of immediacy within each thing that happens to him also leads to his sense of transiency. Because he experiences his world temporally, with the present moment always becoming a segment of the past. Holden views his life as being in a state of continual change. Since a developed intellect is needed to realize immutable conceptions, and since Holdens thinking is limited to his sense of the mutability of life, Holden remains trapped within time, unable to recognize anything permanent in human existence (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 5). One might conclude by stressing that Holden is talking, not to an analyst, but to you, the reader. Holden is talking directly to anyone who might be as troubled morally and spiritually as Holden was about the nature of this world in which everyone exists. He offers his narration of The Catcher in the Rye as a record of his troubles for anyone who might wish to learn from his experiences. As Mr. Antolini says, Its a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isnt education. Its history. Its poetry. (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12)Work citedContemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 8Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 5Words/ Pages : 1,131 / 24
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