J.D. Salinger and His Work on Innocence and Alienation

I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.

—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye


A few days ago, I had this usual chat with my friend Grace about books I lend her and what she thinks about them. Our conversations are mostly filled with whys and assumptions. We can go on raising questions and giving assumptions for more than an hour which is quite a big deal since we aren’t really the most attentive people.

That late afternoon I sat down with her I asked her about Ayn Rand’s Anthem. I bombarded her with questions, having this intense interest in her thoughts (she can be quite amusing, really). Later our conversation derailed from Rand to Orwell. I picked up my copy of 1984 and showed some of my annotations to her. Then I saw in the reviews my eyes intentionally ignore, a mention of The Catcher in the Rye. I remembered I received a copy of it last year as a birthday present from a Korean friend. I was then resolved it would be my next read.

The Catcher in the Rye isn’t what I expected it to be but then I realize, nothing really is. It was an easy read for me, meaning I had no difficulty skipping from one word to another and making all these mental pictures. At times it was really difficult to imagine and understand, especially when I am in the first few pages of a book. The “adjustment” takes a while. J. D. Salinger made it pretty easy for me though.

Holden Caulfield is certainly a teen full of angst but wasn’t just angst. I wouldn’t say we were the same when I was in my teens. I never got to experience the freedom he had savored. But there were times when I thought about dying and not wanting my corpse to be lying in a cemetery crowded with other dead people and some sad living ones. I lie even when I don’t have to but not as much and as good as Holden. I repulsed how some people act ‘phony’ in thousand ways you cannot imagine. But then I would introspect and doubt myself if I have the right to criticize such actions when I am guilty of them too. Is Holden guilty of being a phony? If I could talk to him right now I’ll ask him what he thinks of himself when he lies or do something ‘phony’-like to other people. I guess he would never really care.

Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield. Phoebe W. Caulfield. She’s like sunshine to a fading Holden. Her innocence is Holden’s saving grace. I read a little about J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye to maybe get a better feel of the whole story and often mentioned are the loss of innocence and alienation. Innocence. Alienation. What unfair words. It’s like when you lose innocence or experience alienation, you’re in a pitiful struggle against society. It’s like when you do something not innocent, it can never be or even close to just being yourself. Alienation—even graver, is when you’re not acceptable or likeable or pleasant. You’re an outcast because you’re not what others want you to be.

What astounds me is the effect of The Catcher in the Rye. I would walk and observe the people I pass by or turn on the tv and see a grand farewell game of an NBA Star and figure what Holden means when he tells random stories of phony people. It’s not really sickening but the unnaturalness saddens me. Altogether, the book made me realize that writing in first person isn’t too bad.

A three out of five.