“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.”
When I first read this book back at Uni, I could totally see the appeal of Salinger’s narrator despite the hints that he was telling all this to a psychiatrist at an institute. You never know when he’s being serious, when he’s lying or just plain enjoying leading you on, but he was frank about his problems, his weaknesses, his issues. Holden Caulfield is a bit too ‘smart-alecky’ at the best of times and is probably one of the most opinionated characters I’ve read (the entire book is pretty much him talking), but there was something endearing about him all the same. None more so than when he talks about or is hanging out with his younger sister, Phoebe. She is someone he clearly adores, someone whose opinions and thoughts he respects and looks up to, despite him being older. You sense that underneath all the bluster and bravado, he wants her approval, needs it in fact, and those are the times when he is at his most honest and vulnerable.
Which is why the scene with the two of them towards the end of the book is one of my favourites – Phoebe is on the carousel at the park and Holden is watching her go round and try to grab the little ring. It is one of the only glimpses we get of the complete contentment and happiness that Holden is cynical about –
“I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.”
To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of my favourite books on rites of passages, growing up and dealing with the real, not always fair world, but Catcher in the Rye is definitely up there on the list.