The Catcher in the Rye—What was He Thinking?
Nash K. Burger wrote a review of the book, The Catcher in the Rye, which was
published in the New York Times on July 16, 1951. In his review, Burger idolizes the
book, calling it an unusually brilliant first novel. Burger feels that this book has
wonderful language and portrays the typical teenager. He thinks that Holden has a
cheerful disregard and that there is nothing wrong with him. He also feels that Holdens
mistakes are not caused by him, but by the adult world. This book is totally opposite of
how he categorizes it. In fact, Holden has is far from typical. The language he uses is
preposterous and he always jumps to assumptions.
Burgers first thought that Holden is a typical teenager is way off. Typical
teenagers do not flunk out of school after school. An example of this is, They kicked me
out. I wasnt supposed to come back after Christmas vacation on account of I was
flunking all four subjects and not applying myself and all. Typical teenagers also do not
go and stay in a hotel and hire a hooker, When I opened the door, this prostitute was
standing there. and then ask her, Dont you feel like talking for a while? The last thing
he does that is totally untypical of a teenager is to propose to a girl and then start calling
her names. If this is someones idea of typical, they need to re-evaluate typical teenage
Next Burger says that the book is told in wonderful language. This book is
absolutely, without a doubt, filled with very vulgar language. There is absolutely nothing
wonderful about Holdens language. Every other thought that comes out of his head is
filled with curse words. A good example of this would be when he went to Phoebes
school and he found fuck you written on the wall. This is Holdens reaction to the
profanity, It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little
kids would see it, and how theyd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some
dirty kid would tell them — all cockeyed, about it and maybe even worry about it for a
couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoeverd written it. I figured it was some perverty
bum thatd sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote
it on the wall. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how Id smash his head on
the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody. But I knew, too, I
wouldnt have the guts to do it. I knew that. That made me even more depressed. I
hardly even had the guts to rub it off the wall with my hand, if you want to know the truth.
I was afraid some teacher would catch me rubbing it off and would think Id written it.
But I rubbed it out anyway, finally. Then I went on up to the principals office. (pg 201)
It is obvious that there is nothing wonderful in Holdens language and it is aggravating
that he uses this language and it is fine, but if someone else does, he wants to kill them.
There is one thing that Burger is correct about. Burger says that Holden has a
tendency to judge people from too little evidence. Holden categorizes people too much
when he says, Its full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to
be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep
making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls
and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam
cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick
together, the goddam intellectuals stick together. Even the guys that belong to the
goddam Book-of -the-Month Club stick together. l If you try to have a little intelligent
— (page 131) Holden needs to not jump to so many conclusions and stereotype people
based on the actions of a few.
Burger considers this book one of the best. He says that it would be a long time
before another young author would come out with such a great book. Burger is
completely wrong. Holden is a tad off-base and does some really weird stuff. This book
was poorly written with too much detail. Salinger would get so caught up with details
that the book would bore you. This book should be taken off the high school reading list.
Teachers ask us not to curse and then feed us the language throughout this book.