Holden has finally finished telling us all the madman stuff that happened to him, his wild journey from start to finish. He is still the same cynical narrator from the beginning, and honestly, I’m glad for that. To see him do a complete 180 would be, um… phony.
You finally get to see what the meaning of the title is: when Holden goes to buy Phoebe a record, he hears a little kid sing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” He then goes on to say (pg 173):
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
All Holden really wants to be is this “catcher in the rye.” He wishes to take all the children away from the corruptions of society and establish a “Neverland” utopia. Holden, for one, has no childish innocence left, or at least he think he doesn’t. He was so traumatized by the death of his brother Allie that it left a weight on him that follows his consciousness around everywhere he goes. He’s short tempered and probably not that fun to be around. Not to mention, his constant cursing, fighting, drinking, and obsession with sexuality is proof that Holden has lost his childhood innocence, and I don’t doubt that he wants it back. The worst thing about childhood is growing up, and when kids like Holden have experienced trauma so early in their life, they have no choice but to grow up to deal with what has happened. And this, no doubt, leaves a mark on the child for the rest of their life. I’ll come back to this later on.
Far more concerning than his obsession with sex is his obsession with death (I don’t have to spell it out for you to know that this is quite weird for a 17 year old boy). He constantly mentions being terribly lonely and wanting nothing else in that moment but to die. Holden has already lived through his roommate committing suicide and his baby brother, Allie, dying of leukemia. Relating back to what I mentioned earlier, Holden is introduced to the concept of mortality very early on. Is he afraid of death himself? Is he afraid of others dying? Part of this “mortality” theme is how Holden has built up all these walls around him to protect himself from the horrors of losing someone. The book ends on these lines (pg 214):
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Holden just doesn’t want to get close to anybody, after he already feels betrayed by the ones he loved dying. That’s part of the reason he calls everyone and everything “phony”- it’s a defense mechanism. He calls people fake and pushes them away so he doesn’t have to get attached to them. Take, for example, him hiring a prostitute taking precedence over his profound love for Jane, who we never actually see in the book. Not to mention his relationship with his sister, Phoebe. When she’s not around, you hear Holden gush on and on about how amazing she is, but near the end of the book when they’re actually together, (despite Phoebe being “glad as hell to see [Holden]”), he hides any feelings or excitement he might be experiencing. To me, this is a dangerous tactic– one can play this cat-and-mouse game for so long, and when you actually lose them, you have to live with that person never knowing how much you loved them. By putting up all these walls, he is certainly setting himself up for disaster later on.
He has some obvious hate for the society that raised him like this. The 1950s was considered the epitome of the “perfect family,” the kind you’d find all happy and smiling on a billboard. Again, going back to the idea of Holden just wanting to be a “catcher in the rye,” he wanted to save children like him, or “catch” them, before they fall into the abyss of disillusionment and danger. Holden himself had nothing to catch when he was spiraling into depression– there was no family (that was there for him, anyways), religion, friends, school, nothing. So he just fell. How are you supposed to give into this post WW2 commercialization and idealistic “perfect family” when you know how society has essentially failed you? How are you supposed to appreciate something that doesn’t appreciate you back? Holden’s frustration comes out in both pure rage and suicidal tendencies.
There is one unlikely place that I believe probably saved him from the brink a few times, and those are the ducks. Ah, the essential question, where do ducks go when the pond freezes over? They keep coming back every time, most importantly when he has his big breakdown. In this scene (pg 153), he goes to the pond to check “what the hell the ducks were doing, to see if they were around or not.” He doesn’t find them, so he thinks about suicide instead. Holden doesn’t know how or why the ducks leave during the winter and how they come back, but he knows that they always do. So he holds on to the fact that if the ducks can keep coming back after their toughest times means that Holden can, too.
Overall Review: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆