The previous posting may have left the impression that author J. D. Salinger was a humorous writer of childhood adventures in the style of Jean Shepherd. Far from it. Holden Caulfield is no Ralphie wanting a BB gun for Christmas.
Salinger’s recurring theme is an underlining, almost palpable, rage at the trivialization of life as the price demanded for living in society, particularly at the upper economic levels. Holden’s favorite word is “phony,” and who among us has not thought our parents and teachers phonies at that age? The only difference is that we rarely see it in ourselves, a danger that easily takes over unnoticed. Holden sees it and is scared by it. This was obviously deeply felt by Salinger himself as shown by his obsessive rejection of praise and honors, and it is his main message in most of his writing. In the New Yorker short story, Holden impulsively suggests to his girlfriend they turn their backs on their privileged lifestyles and live together in the country somewhere. She refuses, they argue, and the story ends hours later with him alone in a bar, well past midnight and long after she has gone home to bed, as he drunkenly tries to apologize to her over the telephone. Protecting yourself from phonyness is neither easy nor painless.
I understand The Catcher in the Rye no longer appeals to the younger generations as it first did in the 1950s, I suspect because it has become required reading in many high school English Lit. classes. They see Holden as old-fashioned and “whiney,” but many of them share the same rage. Just watch any episode of the reality TV series “The Real Wives of … ,” and notice the rage of their children. It is not pretty.