1950's Teens Reflected in Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye is simultaneously a book totally foreign to the culture and time in which it was released, and yet also a perfect reflection of the values and experiences of that time. Released in 1951, the novel focuses on the “adventures” (although it is a bit generous to label them as such), of Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year old who, in the beginning of the novel, we learn has recent been expelled for a fourth consecutive time from a prep school in upper New York. The book follows Holden over a period of only several days, as he leaves his campus, travels to the city, and hangs around for a short time.
One of the things that makes Catcher in the Rye unique is its spin on the traditional pacing and conflict of a novel. The novel opens not by jumping into the action, but by use of a framing story. We learn that Holden is narrating from a mental facility, and that the events of the book actually take place several months in the past. Thus, the reader learns, from the start, that the story will be on be one that ultimately results in Holden’s nervous breakdown which causes him to enter the facility. This certainly ends up being the case, as over the course of the story, the author, J.D. Salinger, forgoes a more standard extrinsic conflict, and instead shifts the main problems Holden faces to be psychological, rooted deep in his psyche, and in his deep dissatisfaction with the world as he sees it.
The roughly one hundred fifty page novel spans only several days, meaning that readers experience all of what Holden does in rather extreme depth. This leads to one of the most convincing and credible characters in all of literature. This accomplishment shines doubly bright when considering that Holden, a teenager, was written by Salinger, a fully grown adult. The novel does an incredible job capturing the feelings of teenage angst and societal dissatisfaction which remains prevalent even today. Overall I found the novel to be an excellent read, and would highly recommend it to adult readers, as well as teens.