Holden Caulfield is an iconic character in American literature. He’s an antihero, a rebel without a cause, who dislikes everything and everyone. As such, he endears himself to teenagers of any generation, who feel the angst and alienation he experiences. But there’s a time for rebellion and there’s a time to grow up.
Reading The Catcher in the Rye as an adult exposes Caulfield as a problematic character. He considers everyone a phony (even hating actors because they are inherently phony in their acting), which just serves to make him, in turn, feel like a phony. His disdain for everything feels like a forced affectation he uses to make himself feel superior to everyone else—although he’s the one flunking out of schools left and right. It’s no wonder that disaffected teens find solace in this novel, but as an adult it is nearly impossible to find anything likable about him (I so desperately wanted him to get hit by one of those Madison Avenue buses he so despised).
It’s no surprise, however, that this novel is included on The List. J.D. Salinger’s writing so perfectly embodies the character of Caulfield that he feels all too real. And any novel that isn’t about wizards or vampires yet can still grab a teenagers’ attention should deserve some praise. Caulfield serves as a prototype for hipsters, disliking mainstream things (like movies!) and wearing his red hunting cap as his own personal fashion statement. His imprint on American culture may be timeless, but the novel itself should only be experienced when you’re a teenager.