J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye


-- Presents the most important 20th-century criticism on major works from The Odyssey through modern literature

-- The critical essays reflect a variety of schools of criticism

-- Contains critical biographies, notes on the contributing critics, a chronology of the author's life, and an index


It is nearly half-a-century since the publication of The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and the short novel has gone through hundreds of printings. Authentic popular fiction of authentic literary distinction is rather rare. Does The Catcher in the Rye promise to be of permanent eminence, or will it eventually be seen as an idealistic period-piece, which I think will be the fate of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Toni Morrison's Beloved, works as popular as Catcher continues to be.

The literary ancestors of Holden Caulfield rather clearly include Huck Finn and Gatsby, dangerous influences upon Salinger's novel. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remainsMark Twain's masterwork, central to Faulkner, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and the other significant novelists of their generation. The Great Gatsby endures asFitzgerald's classic achievement, capable of many rereadings. Rereading The Catcher in the Rye seems to me an aesthetically mixed experience—sometimes poignant, sometimes mawkish or even cloying. Holden's idiom, once established, is self-consistent, but fairly limited in its range and possibilities, perhaps too limited to sustain more than a short story.

And yet Holden retains his pathos, even upon several rereadings. Manhattan has been a descent into Hell for many American writers, most notably in "The Tunnel" section inHart Crane's visionary epic, The Bridge. It becomes Holden's Hell, mostly because of Holden himself, who is masochistic, ambivalent towards women, and acutely ambivalent in regard to his father. Holden's psychic health, already precarious, can barely sustain the stresses of Manhattan. He suffers both from grief at his younger brother Allie's death, and from the irrational guilt of being a survivor.

Holden is seventeen in the novel, but appears not to have matured beyond thirteen, his age when Allie died. Where Holden's distrust of adult language originates, Salinger cannot quite tell us, but the distrust is both noble and self-destructive. To be a catcher in the rye, Holden's ambition, is . . .

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