“It was the first time she ever told me to shut up. It sounded terrible. God, it sounded terrible. It sounded worse than swearing. She still wouldn’t look at me either, and every time I sort of put my hand on her shoulder or something, she wouldn’t let me.” – J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Disclaimer: This post is all about the ending of The Catcher in the Rye. If you haven’t finished it yet while reading along with us, I’d suggest finishing up first. Thank you!
As every book must end, I’ve just read the last pages on The Catcher in the Rye not too long ago. But I’ve sat on the ending for a bit now, a few days, pondering what I’ve witnessed and if I’m truly satisfied with the ending.
And I’ll be honest with you- at first, I really wasn’t. I was… irritated by the simplicity. The blank canvas that I assumed Salinger just didn’t want to paint. As explained in my last post on the book, I was waiting for Holden’s issues and problems to dramatically explode. Something to make readers gasp aloud when they read it, a finale that pulled and dragged people through awed paragraphs. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking when I planned that, but the hope was there. Yet instead of any high-strung action movie climax, readers earned Holden just going to the zoo with his younger sister.
Hence, I wasn’t happy. But like I said, I’ve been thinking. And really? I wouldn’t have wanted the book to end any other way. Holden reuniting with his sister Phoebe did make all the difference I was hoping for, just in a subtle way I didn’t expect. The two become bitter despite missing each other so much, as Holden reveals to her that he’s planning on running away soon from all the messes and phony things he’d witnessed in New York. Thus, this quick rivalry results in some interesting arguments. One of the best pieces of dialogue was on page 171, stating, “She said something to me, but I didn’t hear her. ‘You can’t even think of one thing.’ ‘Yes, I can. Yes, I can.’ ‘Well, do it, then.’ ‘I like Allie,’ I said. ‘And I like doing what I’m doing right now. Sitting here with you, and talking, and thinking about stuff, and-‘ ‘Allie’s dead– You always say that! If somebody’s dead and everything, and in Heaven, then it isn’t really-‘ ‘I know he’s dead!…” The argument then goes on, but the point can be made just right there. As predicted, the death of Allie is still impacting the family hard. In fact, Holden later even suffers from hallucinations about his dead brother.
So why is this better? Mainly because this pileup is better, and more realistic, than what I wanted. The small things piling up on each other and finally breaking down Holden is what works. It wouldn’t have made sense that one major, unrelated event would cause the spiral.
In fact, the book does this sequencing very well through Holden’s character interactions in the latter half. As moments continue to happen full-force, Holden seems to become strangely sentimental and sappier despite being backed up by more “moving away” ideas. For example, on page 134 after Holden chaotically calls for Sally to run away with him, Holden explains that “The terrible part, though, is that I meant it when I asked her. That’s the terrible part. I swear to God I’m a madman.” It becomes a very strange paradox. On one side, readers are used to Holden being a very ragtag, brutal character. For good reason, they detach him from the idea that he would happily run away with a girl he later calls a great pain. On the other side, Holden keeps bringing up these ideas anyway even with himself dismissing them from lack of a clear connection. And yet despite the confusion, these moments had created the arc with Phoebe that truly makes the ending. Without these emotions regarding love and home, Holden just wouldn’t be able to reach the root of the issues. His family.
“‘Anyway, I keep picturing all these little skids 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. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.'”
For all his rudeness, for all his distaste in the world, Holden just wants to be a catcher in the rye. He wants to help kids. Just maybe, he wants to earn back what he could have done for Allie if he was still around. The one kid no one in the family has gotten over yet. And that’s when you can really understand the mess in Holden missing everybody.