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

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

A. ROBERT LEE

"Flunking Everything Else Except English Anyway":
Holden Caulfield, Author

Few self-accounts, whether autobiography or novel, display quite so take‐ it-or-leave-it a bravura as The Catcher in the Rye. From Holden's opening disparagement of his early childhood as "all that David Copperfield kind of crap" through to his last, peremptory "That's all I'm going to tell about," J. D. Salinger has his narrator sound the very model of skepticism about whether indeed we do "really want to hear about it." Yet given the book's spectacular popularity since its publication in 1951, clearly only the most obdurate of readers have proved resistant to "hearing about it" and to Holden's different virtuoso flights of scorn or dismay or selective approval. For however we have come to think of Holden Caulfield—as one of the classic isolates of modern times, as the savvy but endlessly vulnerable wittiness to crassness and bad faith, as postwar American adolescence itself even—still another figure presses out deep from within. At virtually every turn Holden gives notice of his endemic and unremitting will to a style of his own, to writerliness, to showing himself, knowingly or not, as nothing less than the very author in waiting of The Catcher in the Rye.

In part, this identity inevitably has something to do with Salinger's originality in conceiving as his narrator the seventeen-year-old who hovers dauntingly at "six foot two and a half," whose hair has turned its celebrated and premature gray on the right side of his head, and who writes of Pencey

____________________
From Critical Essays on Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, ed. Joel Salzberg. © 1990 Joel Salzberg.

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