Friday, January 29, 2010

the catcher in the rye

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye died Wednesday at his home in New Hampshire, where he lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91. The Catcher in the Rye was Salinger's one published novel. At the time his book was published in 1951, Salinger was considered to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then shunned success, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous.

The Catcher in the Rye's narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, is a teenager newly expelled from prep school, who then returns to New York City where he spends three days in drunkenness and lonliness. On his first night back in the city, he checks into a dilapidated hotel and has a platonic relationship with a prostitue. His escapades in the city include a visit to a natural history museum where he compares his life to the statues of eskimos on display. Later he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are away and visits his younger sister, Phoebe. After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden spends the night at the apartment of his former English teacher, Mr. Antolini. Holden and Antolini reflect on the meaning of life. Later when Holden falls asleep, he awakes to find his teacher patting his head acting "flitty." The next day Holden returns to his sister and speaks to her of his desire to leave and go west, but when she demands that he take her with him he tells her he will no longer go. They spend the day at the Central Park zoo and Holden watches at a distance as his sister ride the carousel. On the whole, Holden concludes that the events of the past few days have been inconsequential. He will return to school in September.

The term "catcher in the rye" refers to Robert Burns' Comin thro the Rye* and Holden's idealistic fantasy of being the one who saves children who play in the field and come too close to the brink.

Salinger's novel can be compared to several other novels and stories. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, is the story of the drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim a runaway slave, who raft down the Mississippi River on their way to Jim's freedom. In Stephen King's novella, Stand By Me, four adolescents walk the train tracks on a summer day, searching for the dead body of a boy struck by a train. Finally, in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, three teenagers "jip" school and enjoy a day in the city of Chicago.

*Comin Thro the Rye

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry;
She draigl't a' her petticoattie
Comin thro' the rye.

Comin thro the rye, poor body,
Comin thro the rye,
She draigl't a'her petticoatie,
Comin thro the rye!

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,[r] Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warld ken?