Modernist & Modern classics

The catcher in the rye

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.”

When kids are getting lost in the rye on the verge of falling, someone needs to take control over the situation. We all get lost from time to time, but the continuous torment Holden is experiencing is based on a more profound and specific type of being lost – losing a whole part of yourself. Or, in other words, growing up. Everyone has a different experience when it comes to growing up. It can be an abrupt change or it can start slowly and some might not even notice it. But Holden is caught somewhere between two realities and he is struggling to hold onto an older self that is slipping through his fingers and that he no longer recognizes. It feels like he is trying to define himself physically in order to find his emotional self, through appearance-related elements, like his hunting hat. He becomes distant from everybody, but when people are seeking loneliness they are usually looking for a way back to themselves. However, Holden is running away from both himself and the rest of the world. He can’t bear seeing this new person that is no longer who he thought he was.

People change, many times during their lives. To an extent, change is based on experience. But in the early years of one’s life, change comes from the inside, from the constantly altered emotions, thoughts and principles. When people get older, their personality can take a whole new shape if something extraordinary happens to them, but for someone like Holden, someone crossing a threshold, the personality is the extraordinary thing happening. Over and over, until it starts taking shape.

While reading the book I felt like diving deeper and deeper into a messy, confused and depressed mind. The only comforting place in the book was the Museum of Natural History. The only safe place, the only one where things were easy, exponents happily lived the same secure life and didn’t need to change anything in their behavior. They could sit still and just be. Change truly is frightening, indeed. Though the scariest part of it is not the modification we go through or the unknown, but the things we leave behind, or the concept of giving up on something important in order to get something new. We aren’t even sure whether such an exchange is worth being made. What if we don’t turn out fine? What if the current personality is actually the best version of ourselves? We may never know. And the transition period is the worst – so many new things are happening around us, that we physically don’t have time to sit down for a moment, take a deep breath and contemplate on what is going on inside. Because on the inside there are even more things happening than our experiences coming from the outer world. So we keep on neglecting that part of us that is being mutilated and brutally morphed into something completely new. We don’t pay attention to it, so when we try coming back, there is no starting point, no reference, nothing. It’s just empty. We become empty. And that is scary.

Sometimes, this emptiness sticks around for a very long time. Why? Well, it’s our fault once more. We keep avoiding it, avoiding our true, inner selves because we are scared there might be nothing left inside. But there is always something. It’s just really hard to find it from time to time. I don’t think we should catch the kids who are running in the rye. Maybe it’s ok to let them go, as long as we hold on to the rye and rememorize the chaotic dance they once had. We can watch the external change with our eyes wide open, but it is crucial to stop for a moment and internalize what we are experiencing. To truly feel it and to make something personal and unique out of it. Because if we keep interpreting reality in our own way, we make it ours. And by making it ours, we don’t just leave a mark behind, but we also make us a part of it. We become more real to ourselves, more significant, we know who we are and we don’t lose ourselves in the moment, even when the moment is too big. That is how we simply start being.

2 thoughts on “The catcher in the rye”

  1. A thoughtful, engaging discussion. I wonder if JD Salinger ever found out who he was. Do any of us, really?
    I thought I knew who I was until I found distance trekking and in Spain I discovered new things around every corner. At 60 years old! I came home and wrote about my journey in Camino Sunrise. Never thought I would be a book author.
    Strangely, comments from even young readers say my story helped them in their journey.
    As Holden knew, life is full of new turns.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think we can really know for sure who we are. There are too many possibilities and it’s all relative, so we should always be something in the end 🙂
      But your journey sounds like an incredible discovery and I can imagine it gave you an entirely different perspective on your life. Maybe that’s actually a process of changing, and we don’t find out who we are, but instead we see a slightly new person

      Liked by 1 person

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