The Catcher in the Rye is a novel of American Literature first published in 1945 which is written in language true to its era but has themes which are contemporary to today's society in relation to the hero's struggle to find his place in society.
It is written in the first person from the perspective of a 16 year old boy Holden Caulfield as he tries to come to terms with his identity and how he fits into society in terms of education, relationships with others and his direction in life. Above all Holden is an individual who does not conform to rules.
He sees many relationships negatively particularly disliking fake people of whom he seems to be surrounded and has suffered the loss of a younger brother, Allie to Leukemia. Implicitly in the plot Holden is still grieving unable to form attachments with other males who fail to measure up to the relationship he had with his brother. Holden has a close relationship with his younger sister, Phoebe, who is older than her age of 10 years old in understanding and is only able to turn to her and not his parents when he yet again fails one in a long line of schools. Towards the end of the novel significantly Phoebe asks Holden what he actually likes, and Holden finds it difficult to answer. Finally he admits that other than enjoying conversations with his sister he only likes Allie.
Holden has a clear view of morality and despite his claims to lack courage; he takes a punch after challenging his roommate who he believes has disrespected a female friend of his for whom he still has feelings. He arranges for but is unable to sleep with a prostitute because he sorry for her but refuses to pay extra for her services than he originally agreed, despite the consequences of a physical assault from her pimp.
The novel is littered with interesting conversations take place in which teachers advise Holden on the error of his ways.
Holden explores his identity when he strikes up a conversation with a parent of a classmate on a train. He acts grown up smoking and trying to drink and telling lies. Holden encounters a couple of Nuns later on his travels and a sweeter side of his personality is exposed where he offers to buy their breakfast and gives them a donation for charity. Holden meets his former girlfriend for a date which goes wrong when he suggests that they run away to start a new life in a log cabin. Holden frequently passes himself off as older in order to drink alcohol at bars and seems to try to avoid being alone.
The Catcher in the Rye title is taken from Holden's expressed ambition to be the person who catches children in a Rye field to prevent them falling off a cliff. It is an innocent idealistic ambition for Holden and reflects his desire to do good as with the Nuns and perhaps the underlying wish to regain the control that he was not able to have to prevent his brother dying illustrated by his anger in smashing the windows of his parents' garage.
Above all Holden is flawed but likeable.