Written in a time where topics such as mental illness were considered taboo, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a revolutionary novel. Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield who struggles to find his purpose and place in society while grieving the death of his younger brother Allie. Allie had died when Holden was only 13 years old, and 3 years later, this traumatic event still greatly affects Holden’s cynical view of society and life itself. Holden’s experiences in an upper-class family and in the boarding schools he has spent most of his adolescence in have shaped his view of adulthood and the “phoniness” of society in general. He views childhood as something precious, and adulthood as a dark world of phoniness and monotony. Spending time in all-male prep schools has also caused Holden to question the meaning of masculinity and what it means to be a man.
After being expelled from his third school, Holden decides to go to New York City alone and encounters characters he deems as “phony,” such as Sally Hayes, Bernice, Sunny, and Ernie. Holden resents these characters for their lack of authenticity and superficial interests. His search for someone who is innocent and genuine leads him to his younger sister, Phoebe. It is then revealed that Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye,” or someone who is there to catch children playing in a field from falling over the metaphorical cliff to adulthood. Holden’s obsession with the preservation of innocence stems from the loss of his younger brother, Allie, and can be seen in his reluctance to see old friends and the museum he used to love as a child. Holden is scared of change, and of seeing those he once adored older, more mature, and, in Holden’s mind, “phony.” These experiences bring Holden to a point of emotional exhaustion and distress, which climaxes at the end of the novel when he watches Phoebe and other young children on a carousel at the New York Zoo. This display of pure innocence and joy brings Holden to tears, yet he feels truly happy for the first time in the story. The entire story is told from Holden’s perspective a year later, as he is talking to a therapist in a mental hospital. The reader never truly gains closure on Holden’s future but is left to finish the story in their own minds.
Thousands of readers have resonated with Holden’s character, and are grateful for the genuine voice of J.D. Salinger and the connection they feel with Holden. Many speculate that Holden is a reflection of Salinger himself, influenced by the traumatic events that plagued Salinger’s own life. This novel has forced readers to question societal influence and what is truly important in life. Salinger has given a voice to the cynical internal monologue many shares with Holden and brought to light countless issues that were never truly discussed or recognized in the time during which Catcher in the Rye was written.
Happy New Year! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend more time reading new books, and I hope that this post inspires you to do the same. With that, here are 12 books you should read during the 12 months of 2020:
1984 by George Orwell: This book highlights the importance of individual rights and freedom, and serves as a cautionary tale meant to warn readers of the dangers that the future may hold.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett: This classic mystery novel is a must-read for any enthusiasts of the genre. This suspenseful story is filled with action and intrigue and will keep you guessing until the very last page.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: This is a very popular book read by students, and is known for its authenticity and powerful life lessons. Its characters are very relatable, and teach readers the importance of friendship and family.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: Steinbeck tells the story of multiple characters living in Monterey, a town that relied on its fishing and canning industry. This story teaches readers resilience and the importance of a community.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: Oftentimes, history is told from the perspective of the victors. However, this novel illustrates the Great Depression from the perspective of people that are struggling to find work, which makes it feel genuine.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This popular novel takes place in Nazi Germany, where a young orphan named Lisel learns to read and befriends a Jewish boy named Max that is hiding with her foster family. This story illustrates the importance of friendship and kindness and shows just how powerful words can be.
That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton: Although this is one of Hinton’s lesser-known works, it is an incredibly authentic and moving story that shows readers how our experiences change and shape who we are.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: This well-known story is one of the greatest horror stories and works of science fiction in literary history. Frankenstein is an incredibly intriguing story that teaches integrity and compassion.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Life of Pi is a survival story that uses metaphor to depict the dark side of human nature. Its gripping suspense and powerful symbolism make it a literary masterpiece, and a must-read for everyone.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: This book tells the inspiring true story of a soldier in World War II, who is captured and held in a Japanese prison camp until the end of the war. He endures torture and abuse during his time at the camp and teaches readers resilience, strength, and perseverance.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist tells the tale of a boy on a search for treasure, and along the way, learns about the world and himself. This book teaches the importance of personal growth and discovery and shows that the real treasures in life lie within our hearts.
12. Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Wonder is an incredibly moving story about a young boy who faces bullying due to his appearance, but finds friends that support and help him. Another version of the book also tells the story from the perspective of one of the boy’s bullies, who is facing difficulties of his own that he tries desperately to hide. This books teaches compassion, empathy, and the importance of friendship, and is an essential read for everyone.
Lord of the Flies is a dystopian, survival novel written by William Golding in 1953. Living through the bloodiest war in human history, Golding had witnessed humanity’s great capacity for inflicting cruelty and brutality on one another. This greatly influenced his pessimistic view of human nature; he believed that the natural human propensity is violent unless restrained by societal influence. The book opens on an island, now inhabited by a group of unsupervised British schoolboys that survived a violent plane crash. Some of the main characters are Ralph, Piggy, Jack, and Simon. Ralph and Piggy find a conch shell and call for an assembly of all the survivors on the island. The assembly results in the appointment of Ralph as chief. Ralph believes that maintaining fire on the island is the most important task, as it will signal to the outside world that they need rescue.
Meanwhile, Jack is focused on hunting. During this conflict, the boys find a mysterious creature called “the beast,” which they believe is following them, and planning to harm them. Simon tells the group that “the beast” may be them; that the human is the most dangerous animal on the island. As the debate on the existence of “the beast” continues, Jack and Ralph split into two separate tribes. Simon finds the head of a pig, left behind as a sacrifice to “the beast.” This head is the Lord of the Flies and gives Simon a vision. Simon is soon killed by Jack’s tribe, and as the conflict escalates, so is Piggy. Ralph is now targeted by Jack’s tribe and tries to fight them off as best he can. Just before Ralph is killed, a naval officer on a nearby ship reaches the island, alerted by their smoke signals, and rescues them.
This book demonstrates a zeitgeist held by many authors and philosophers during this time period. Golding’s use of British schoolboys as his characters shows that anyone, regardless of age or perceived innocence and civility, can surrender to the brutal proclivity living within all human beings. The boys are a mirror image of the warring adults surrounding them, and the island becomes a microcosm of World War II itself.
George Orwell’s 1984 is a dystopian novel read by countless high school students each academic year. It tells the story of a futuristic society(Oceania) under the rule of an elite group called the Party and the symbolic, mythical figurehead Big Brother from the perspective of an Outer Party member named Winston Smith. In this society, the population is divided into three main classes: the Inner Party (upper-class minority), the Outer Party (middle-class minority), and the Proles (lower class majority). Through the use of fear and mind control, Big Brother ensures that all citizens worship him, his administration, and his existence.
Excessive surveillance through telescreens and the Thought Police discourage rebellion and opposition. Individuality and basic human emotion and instinct are extinguished, and the citizens of Oceania have lost the ability to love and form familial loyalties. Techniques such as doublethink and crimestop are ingrained into the minds of citizens that prevent thoughtcrime, or having thoughts against Big Brother and the Party. Throughout the story, Winston battles with thoughtcrime in his brainwashed state, and struggles to become “conscious.” He falls in love with a fellow rebel, Julia, and tries to join the mythical anti-Party group known as the Brotherhood. However, this bliss soon comes to an end when Winston is caught by the Thought Police. He experiences both physical and psychological torture that transforms him into a devout follower and worshipper of Big Brother and the Party once again, and he sinks back into a brainwashed state as he waits for inevitable execution.
Orwell published this book in 1949 as both a prediction and a warning of what the year 1984 would have in store for human society. Although Orwell did not live long enough to see this fated year, his predictions create a shocking parallel with 2019. This book was not written as a simple story, but rather as an exemplar of our future and a passionate remonstrance against the direction it is taking. A message written to implore future generations to avoid bringing the world written in these pages to life. 1984 should be read by all voting Americans in 2019. We must understand that our actions have a power that can be used for better or for worse. Will 2019 become 1984? Only time will tell.
S.E. Hinton is an American author we are often introduced to in school. Her classic novel The Outsiders remains one of the most popular books in youth literature to this day. The Outsiders tells the stories of the lower class (Greasers) and the upper class (Socs) from the perspective of narrator Ponyboy Curtis. The novel explores hostile interaction between social classes and is often seen as Hinton’s greatest work due to its stark realism and relatability.
Rumble Fish is another one of Hinton’s greatest works. Rumble Fish follows the life of teenager Rusty James who struggles to live a life in his brother’s shadow. His brother, the Motorcycle Boy, had taken a trip to California and left behind a notorious, criminal reputation that Rusty James tries his best to embody. Unbeknownst to Rusty James, Motorcycle Boy never truly made it to California and was battling his own mental strife. In the end, Motorcycle Boy’s life is ended by his final, fatal encounter with the police as he tries to steal “rumble fish” from a local pet store. Possessed by grief, Rusty James decides to make his own trip to California and reaches the ocean in honor of his lost brother. Through this intense story, Rumble Fish teaches readers that the world becomes less dark if we know where to find the light.
One of Hinton’s lesser known works is That Was Then, This is Now. That Was Then, This is Now contains many of the same elements as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, but takes place a few years later. Now, social classes are less defined, and violence between Greasers and Socs is less frequent. The current omnipotent issue is no longer gang fights; it’s drug abuse. Main characters Mark and Bryon are close friends, and consider themselves brothers. When Bryon’s mother is hospitalized and needs surgery, the two scramble to find sources of necessary income. Bryon finds a job at a supermarket, while Mark supplies money without an obvious source. During this time of financial stress, their friend M&M goes missing until Bryon finds him under the influence of narcotics. M&M is hospitalized, and Bryon finds out that Mark has been selling drugs in order to help pay for his mother’s surgery. Bryon must choose justice for M&M or Mark’s life. In the end, their brotherly bond is severed when Bryon reports Mark and Mark is sent to prison. This story shows readers that the world is not divided into black and white, or good and evil. The most difficult decisions are often made in the area of divergence between the two extremes.
S.E. Hinton’s is one of the greatest authors of the 1900’s, and her books have remained popular, years after publication. Her didactic novels continue to teach modern youth crucial life lessons that will never die with age.
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy’s analysis on the divergence between the realm of fantasy and the confines of the real world shows us that reality and fantasy are really not as different as they may seem. One example of this is Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, which centers around the trials and triumphs of a former U.S Marine lieutenant turned history teacher as he becomes entangled in the world of international espionage and warfare.
The series’ first book, Patriot Games, depicts Ryan’s chance encounter with Ulster Liberation Army terrorists in England and sets the tone for how this will alter the course of his career and family life in the books to follow. Although this book was written for entertainment purposes, it does give us a window into the international political climate at the time of the book’s release(July 1987). The Provisional Irish Republican Army was fighting to end British influence in Northern Ireland and reunite Ireland at the time of publication. This book was not based on a true story, but it does allude to the real-life political climate in the UK at the time, which helps readers gain a greater understanding of a time period that they may not have experienced.
Another author who drew inspiration from the world around him is John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s famous Of Mice and Men is a book many read during high school English courses. It tells the story of two close friends, George and Lennie, as they attempt to seek work in California during the Great Depression. This story is categorized as fiction, though some of the characters and events Steinbeck described were people and things he met and experienced during his time working on a ranch in central California. Of Mice and Men’s setting helps readers understand the desperation that unemployed Americans faced in trying to find jobs during the Great Depression. Lennie’s character also shows the rejection, stigmatization, and ignorance of mental illness during this time period, which was a very real and prevalent issue in the real world. Many believe that books categorized as fiction are simply nothing more than stories created to entertain literary enthusiasts on a rainy day.
History, politics, and social structure are all topics that are traditionally reserved for textbooks or newspapers. However, Clancy’s series and Steinbeck’s works are some of the many examples of how fiction can give us a glimpse into the past or present reality. It is interesting to see just how much we can learn about a past time through our favorite novels and fantasy stories and may encourage those who stick to the world of non-fiction to branch out into other genres.