I think the book is pretty good, but not brilliant, and if it hadn’t been so widely censored and criticized, I doubt it would be nearly as popular and well thought of as it is. Nevertheless, I do like the passage in the book that generates the title.
One of the main themes of the book is the loss of innocence, and the main character, Holden Caulfield, is distressed by the idea of children growing up and becoming “phony.”
In one scene, he imagines himself saving them from that:
“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. That’s all I 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.”
As a youth minister, I can sympathize with his feelings. Part of being a youth minister is encouraging kids to stay away from stuff that’s not good for them, physically and spiritually.
But unfortunately, as Holden realizes, you can’t catch kids before they fall off the cliff. They’re going to be exposed to things you were wish they weren’t and they’re going to fail and make poor decisions.
The key then is to prepare them to be the kind of people who make good decisions more often than not, and to try to “catch” them until then.
That’s good youth ministry, I think.