This Book’s No Phony: My Thoughts on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

The first thing I noticed about The Catcher in the Rye was the cover; the back flap is identical to the front, title and all. There are no reviews from critics. No words luring you to pick the book off the shelf. I found this refreshing after the usual nonsense publishers insist on—critics gushing over the brilliance of this or that author. You’d think geniuses are a dime a dozen these days. The only visual you have as to the book’s content is an abstract of a horse on a carousel, a perfect metaphor for its story, which I cannot go into without spoiling it. 

I can remember feeling much like Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, at sixteen. I used to argue why I should tell every customer to “have a nice day”. It may sound selfish, but how much do we concern ourselves with a stranger’s day after they go? And yet, society demands conformity. You either give in to it or become a social recluse. Of course, this makes us all—every adult on the planet—phonies. It’s in the nuances that we come to understand the necessity of it, however, that a level of “phoniness” is necessary. If the Internet proves anything, it’s that we can’t all go around speaking our hearts and minds. But going from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to cynicism, is a painful transition. It’s the angst of being in this middle stage of life—of being a teenager—that The Catcher in the Rye brilliantly captures.

As much as Holden Caulfield rails against phoniness, the exact opposite quality, sincerity, is the novel’s greatest strength. Reading it makes you realize how artificial other books can be. Caulfield is a protagonist only by the strictest definition; you identify with him because he isn’t larger than life: he’s you and me. Reading The Catcher in the Rye is like talking to a close friend. There is little plot, and hardly any conflict to drive the story forward, yet you get the sense that if there had been, it would only seem contrived. It is, rather, a coming of age story and a journey through the varying stages of life, from the disillusionment of youth to the eventuality of pragmatism and conformity.  

More significant than its simple story, however, The Catcher in the Rye touches a nerve in you. It speaks to that which so many feel but can rarely voice—that sense that the society we live in is, as Holden Caulfield would likely call it today, bullshit. What are contracts, and lease agreements, and signatures, and credit scores, if not bullshit? Even the people telling you to sign the damn things don’t expect you to read them.
If J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, read this review, he’d probably call me a phony too. However much I loathe admitting it, I write these reviews to show my knowledge of literature—which I hope will translate to people thinking I’d make a good writer. Sadly, we are all vying for attention; we are all trying to prove our worthiness to be loved and in doing so are just as phony as we’ve ever been.

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