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Questioning a Masterpiece: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, is the debut novel of J.D. Salinger. It tells the story of an American teenager called Holden Caulfield. He’s expelled from his school shortly before the end of the school year, but instead of going straight home, he decides to go to New York for a few days to delay getting in trouble with his parents. While in New York, he encounters many people and experiences many things. It’s these encounters and experiences, recounted from his own point of view, that make up the bulk of the book.

The novel is seen as one of the best novels of the twentieth century and has had made a significant impact on the many people who have read it. It’s thus called a masterpiece. But I don’t think it is. It doesn’t even come close to being one. This is due to two things.

Firstly, Holden has got to be the worst character I’ve ever read. He’s immature, cynical, complains way too much, and lacks interest and motivation in pretty much everything. On top of this, he frequently lies to get what he wants and is also a self-confessed “sex maniac”. His only redeemable quality in my mind is his fondness and love for his little sister, Phoebe. I get that he’s a teenager who’s in the midst of figuring out who he is, but I just found him really hard to relate to. Maybe this is because he and I are completely different from each other.

Secondly, the novel is so long and drawn out that it is annoyingly repetitive and mind-numbingly boring. And it’s only 200-odd pages long! It doesn’t help that there isn’t much of a plot to start with. I personally think it would’ve been better as a short story. The vast majority of the text could have either been cut or condensed.

It’s because of these things that it took me 3 and a half months to read it. I disliked it so much that I went days and weeks without even picking it up, leaving it to gather dust on my bedside table. I frequently thought about putting it back on my bookcase and start reading another book. But I grudgingly persisted, and eventually finished it.

I’m likely to be ridiculed by those who hold The Catcher in The Rye in high regard. I honestly don’t want to take anything away from you guys. It’s important to remember that all art is subjective to how it’s experienced personally. If you haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye before, then give it a go. You might end up liking it.

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