The Catcher In The Rye, J.D Salinger’s timeless classic has endured 70 long years, establishing itself as one of the mainstays of American Literature. The book is written from the point-of-view of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old adolescent trying to make sense of adulthood and in general, life. 

What makes the novel unique is the narration technique used. Salinger employs a first-person narration that takes us right into the mind of our teenage protagonist, every thought and feeling expressed as raw as possible. It adds a sense of authenticity, one of the recurring themes in the book. The book deals with a lot of themes, but the core one  is the theme of adulthood and how it represents loss of innocence. That’s how Caulfield views adulthood. Not only is he on the brink of adulthood in terms of his age, but also is seemingly stuck between childlike innocence and “phoniness” of adulthood. This provides some interesting contrast, and in the novel occur together a few times. Holden’s head, for example. One side of his head is covered with black hair, while the other is covered with white hair, which is commonly associated with aging. Caulfield himself is both childlike in his ways, but at the same time indulges in adult behaviour like smoking. He finds the world pretentious and wants to stop time, wants to stop aging. Caulfield is reluctant to let go of his innocence, refusing to let the world taint it. The red hunting hat, a popular symbol in the book that is now seared into popular culture, is used by Holden to cover his hair. This can be interpreted as a desperate attempt to latch onto innocence, almost Holden’s defense mechanism. 

What is interesting is that Caulfield uses many aspects to explore the idea of childhood versus adulthood. The themes explored are sexuality, notions of being independent, drinking and smoking, his fears and desires. The novel also grapples with the concept of death and letting go(of both people, and of fears of losing childhood).

At its core, the novel is about a boy and the existential struggle that ensues as he approaches adulthood and its various facets. It’s about struggle and resistance to change, the constant fight not to become another “phony” person. 

About the Author -  J.D Salinger was an American author immortalized by his most famous work, The Catcher In The Rye. J.D Salinger was drafted into the army during WW2 and saw combat with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He reached the rank of Sergeant.
He witnessed five of the heaviest battles in Europe. After he came back from the war, Salinger wrote not about war but The Catcher in The Rye.

JD Salinger admitted in an interview held in 1953 that his book “The Catcher in The Rye” was part biographical. He said that writing Holden Caulfield was a relief to him because of this very reason. Salinger came under the hammer for his generous religious swearing and casual depiction of drugs and sex. His work was called immoral and perverse. Salinger, much like his character Caulfield, hated Hollywood and tried his best to make sure Hollywood never got his material for production. 

Takeaway   Holden Caulfield struggles with coming to grips with adulthood. He wants to remain pure and innocent, but finds himself on the crossroads of innocence and phoniness (which seems to be the distinguishing characteristic of adulthood to Holden). Confused himself, he wants to try and be a “catcher in the rye”, a protector of innocence. He expresses his wish to be the person that makes sure that children playing in fields of rye don’t fall off the cliff. To protect them from falling into the traps of adulthood. Holden expresses this view throughout the book, but towards the end, he watches Phoebe and decides that maybe sometimes children should be let to “grab the golden ring” and fall. He is happy as he watches his ten-year-old sister ride the carousel, and seems to have a change of heart.