Review | The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


1 out of 5 stars

(Potential Spoilers)

The Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of-age novel written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. Set in 1949, the story is told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield – a teenaged boy recently kicked out of his fourth school – as he enters a major existential crisis on his way home.

I have a genuine dislike for this book for so many reasons – and the biggest one is Holden. 

From the very start of the novel, I felt lost. There are times when feeling lost with a story is a good thing because there comes a moment where everything is tied together – and if it’s not, then you have the chance to figure it out for yourself. In the case of The Catcher in the Rye, however, I found nothing. I went into the novel knowing only a handful of things: the main character is Holden Caulfield, the novel is about his basic disinterest in life, and that it is considered a classic.

I came away from the novel knowing the main character is Holden Caulfield and he is the second worst character that I have read about. I don’t know why this book is considered a classic.

The writing was tedious. When a story is told in first person, you want your narrator to have an interesting voice. Holden does not have an interesting voice; if anything, he has the voice of someone I would like to gag and stop from speaking ever again. I find with myself sometimes that I am likely to repeat phrases every so often, and words like catchphrases, but whenever Holden did that kind of thing in the book it was done in a way that felt unnatural and annoying. “And all that” amongst other phrases were littered constantly throughout the narrative, oftentimes appearing within a few words of the last time it was used.

There was no balance when it came to descriptions – in one moment, someone would be described in every ounce of detail you could possibly think of, the next person, however, would be described in one word or very dismissively.

Holden, as the main character, was unlikable and depressing in a way that I’m certain was unintentional. What I mean is, Holden is supposed to be going through this major existential crisis, he is supposed to be depressed and observing the world in this philosophical way that is supposed to be relatable to disenfranchised youths – but he is just down right annoying. I have read a lot of books in my time that have had many characters entering existential crises, that have started to feel out of touch with the world around them, that have done a much better job than this and have not had the credit they deserve. A modern example of this would be Solitaire by Alice Oseman, a phenomenal debut by a then-teenaged author that was described as “The Cather in the Rye for the digital age”.

I fell in love with Solitaire’s main character, Victoria ‘Tori’ Spring. I did not fall in love with Holden Caulfield.

To me, Holden felt like an entitled, whiny brat. There were times when I thought that his character could have something redeemable about him – like his talk about his roommate and his obnoxious treatment of women, but then I read further and deeper and it started to feel more like Holden was jealous these girls were not interested in him. He didn’t like these people because he couldn’t understand how they got into the positions they were in. The further I got into the novel, the more I started seeing Holden as the poster boy for Nice Guy™.

Holden’s treatment of people was horrid, and especially his treatment of women. He is one of those guys that treats a girl nice and then wonders why they don’t love him. He was aggressive to women in a bar in a mixture of ways and became rude when they wanted him to leave them alone. He called a girl for a date that he didn’t really want to go on and then completely wigged out on her with plans that she didn’t want to be a part of, then got annoyed that this girl he hadn’t spoken to for months didn’t want any of his spur of the moment nonsense.

There is only one moment I can think of where I felt a little sorry for him, and that was the prostitute scene. Holden hires a prostitute for the evening but when she arrives at his room he changes his mind and wants to talk instead. She sits through his tirade of thoughts and charges him more than he’d agreed to pay from her boss. He sends her away with the amount he’d agreed to but she returns with the boss who roughs him up for the extra cash. Crying, or close to it, Holden is left in his room.

That scene was the most human I found Holden in the whole novel, but it did nothing to further his character. This is a midway point of the book, considering it’s short length, and Holden went from douchebag to mildly human, straight back to douchebag in a matter of pages. There was no character growth, and that was something that I just couldn’t get behind.

Everyone has some sort of growth and change in their lives, things that shape them into the people they are. Sometimes they’re good people and other times they are not, but Holden lacks that kind of humanity. He felt one dimensional and utterly boring. He had no personality.

I came very close to not finishing this novel, but I pushed through because when I make a commitment to something, I’ll see it through to the end. This novel REALLY tested my patience, though.


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