Skip to comments.J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracelessly
Posted on 10/23/2004 6:55:30 AM PDT by jalisco555
Precisely how old I was when I first read "The Catcher in the Rye," I cannot recall. When it was published, in 1951, I was 12 years old, and thus may have been a trifle young for it. Within the next two or three years, though, I was on a forced march through a couple of schools similar to Pencey Prep, from which J.D. Salinger's 16-year-old protagonist Holden Caulfield is dismissed as the novel begins, and I was an unhappy camper; what I had heard about "The Catcher in the Rye" surely convinced me that Caulfield was a kindred spirit.
By then "The Catcher in the Rye" was already well on the way to the status it has long enjoyed as an essential document of American adolescence -- the novel that every high school English teacher reflexively puts on every summer reading list -- but I couldn't see what all the excitement was about. I shared Caulfield's contempt for "phonies" as well as his sense of being different and his loneliness, but he seemed to me just about as phony as those he criticized as well as an unregenerate whiner and egotist. It was easy enough to identify with his adolescent angst, but his puerile attitudinizing was something else altogether.
That was then. This is half a century later. "The Catcher in the Rye" is now, you'll be told just about anywhere you ask, an "American classic," right up there with the book that was published the following year, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." They are two of the most durable and beloved books in American literature and, by any reasonable critical standard, two of the worst. Rereading "The Catcher in the Rye" after all those years was almost literally a painful experience.
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
They pushed these books on us in high school also.
Thank goodness for the internet and Sparknotes.
As for Salinger, I suspect his opinion of himself is higher than merited by a single work, regardless of how relevant it was to an angst-ridden generation in 1951. Let's just say he falls into the category of What Have You Done Lately?
You have to be just the right age when you read Catcher. As for Old Man...it really was Hemingway at his worst. The only thing it has going for it is the Hemingway "brand," its relatively short length, and easy-to-read Hemingway vocabulary.
I've never understood why English teachers choose Old Man and the Sea for the representative Hemingway work.US education is a leftist monolith? Whatever The Party says they must teach, they must teach?
Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as "a symbol of purity and sensitivity" (as "The Oxford Companion to American Literature" puts it) when he's merely self-regarding and callow?What were the roots of the shallow rebellion of the '60s, the years that warped our culture and continue to plague us? Some critics have argued that the most pernicious ideas of that era were planted still earlier, by the self-styled rebels of the Beat Generation. Salinger, a great hero to the boys of my era, was arguably the most influential of those writers.
To my way of thinking, the dream of adolescence is, and always has been, to enjoy all the adult pleasures without any of the adult responsibilities.
I didn't have to read it in highschool but made the mistake of reading it 4-5 years ago.
The Beat Generation were unashamedly pro-American. They fancied themselves the offspring of Whitman and celebrate the American landscape.
The sixties saw the simultaneous mass marketing of the "hep cat" and perceived disallusionment with the status quo.
hated both those books, but especially catcher.
Try reading Stop Time. Superior to Catch in theme and writing, but never really got a fair shot. And, it can be read and enjoyed at any age.
I cite catcher as The Worst book I have ever read.
I read Franny & Zooey, liked it much more than Catcher. Sallinger is a total a-hole, however.
I love talking about Hemingway. Ever since he got hung with the PC "misogynist" label, all his work seems to have been denigrated.
You're right, The Old Man and the Sea was completely different from all of his other works, written at the end of his life when his health was failing.
His entire writing ethic was based on _TRUTH_. The way you started a novel was to write a true sentence, and keep writing them until your novel was complete. His stories took place in the real world, amid real political and physical circumstances. Nothing made up, everything could really happen just the way he wrote it. Same with his dialog, and he was one of the best at dialog, as far as I am concerned.
The Old Man and the Sea, however, was not based on _TRUTH_, it was based on emotion. The constellations the old man sees while battling the fish and taking it home would not have been visible during the time of year the story takes place. All kinds of other things, too, but it's been a while since I read a critique. The point is, as you say, TOMATS is not representative of Hemingway's work.
It was still a nice story, but nothing like my favorite, "The Sun Also Rises."
Now that's a novel. They don't make'em like that anymore.
And you made it all the way through? I salute your courage!
I read Catcher too late, at 18 or 19 (don't ask why) and shrugged it off. I agree with you on On The Road, but would add that Desolation Angels should be read a few years later.
I never read that. I loved to read (still do, of course) and hated being told what to read when I was in school. The only book I was assigned that I actually enjoyed was "The Portrait of Dorian Gray". Now that was a novel.
Sparked a whole genre of similar mind-rot. Judy Blume, Adrian Mole, etc.
Sex, cursing, egotism, broken family ties, etc., all laid out for kids to "identify" with.
After the obligatory reading of this in school, I remember our teacher making similar criticisms as Yardley does in his review. She brought us up short, as we were all seeing Caulfield in a sentimental way, immediately identifying with him. She would have none of it.
Of course- this was several decades ago, when teachers were allowed, even expected, to make moral and value judgements.
An aside- my 7th-grade geography teacher explained in a clear and never-forgotten way how social security would eventually dry up- and that we should begin saving early and often:)
IMO,lazy parents and the liberals assault on our American values thru everyday resistance to religion, and responsibility and hard work-As well as the creation of the Welfare State by Democrats looking to retain power- have more to do with the decline of our society than some work of fiction by a very silly man.
Just my .02
So it WASN'T just me. I never finished it, I thought it was awful.
For good Hemingway -- try Sun Also Rises. However, my personal favorites are the Nick Adams Stories. This is a controversial choice for Hemingway enthusiasts, but I can't help it, I really do love those short stories.
Thanks, I'll give it a look. I read the Catcher in junior high, and I don't remember much about it. I don't think I'll bother with a re-read.
You are absolutely right. I read (actually listened) to a "On the Road" a couple of years ago and it was a hymn to American landscape, as you suggest. It is the perfectly book to listen to when traveling cross country by car. Kerowac was an acerbic critic of socialism and statism (as was Burroughs).
The Washington Post?
If you are older than the 11-14 year old window for Catcher, then don't bother. But again, Stop Time is a superior book covering the same subject matter.
Also, Sun Also Rises has a favorite line:
"How did you go broke?"
"Two ways, at first slowly, then very quickly."
And you made it all the way through?
Yeah, but not without ''Why am I still reading this piece of crap?'' running thru my mind like one of those TV screen news crawlers.
I am a high school English teacher. I've made the following statements many times here at FR and they are appropriate here:
PLEASE get involved with your local school system! Ask to see the curriculum. Find out which books are being taught.
The classics are being phased out for many reasons - some political and some relating to the fact that teachers are giving up because they're "too hard" (read "students too lazy"). However, the biggest reason is that no one is objecting!
Dont' have kids in school? It doesn't matter! It's your tax dollars. It's your community. And, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it's your country.
If only a few people get together, THEY WILL RESPOND! Adminstrators hate controversy and, believe it or not, many teachers will love you for it.
Everyone should travel across country by car at least once in their lives. They should be made to stop in small diners and cafes off the interstates and talk with people. I did it the first time many decades ago and the images are as fresh in my mind as if it were last month. It will also fill you with overwhelming love for the country and its people. The perjorative terms "fly over states" and "elites" would vanish from our national vocabulary.
A Farewell to arms! bit where they're wiping the dirt off the pasta as they scarf it in the trench---
I'm surprised that no one has brought up the more recent books in the "I'm rich whoa is me." genre; Bright Lights Big City and Less Than Zero.
I mean c'mon, Robert Downey Jr. performing fellatio due to being in debt to a coke dealer is REALLY far from reality.....
Wait, that happened for real didn't it????
LOL. I know what you mean. I wonder how many teenagers have been turned into permanent non-readers by being forced to read that book.
Wonder if the affection for this book could be used like an inkblot psy test--to tell conservs from libs? I'd think the classic conserv would regard this book with contempt, and the lib with joy.
The first time I read Catcher in HS, I too thought it was a manifesto for all adolescents of my era. I ended up reading it again a decade later, and realized it was more of a diagnosis of a mentally unfit individual. I think Salinger originally wrote it as a sad story of a misfit, but then it got picked up and misinterpreted as the voice of generation.
Regarding Hemingway, his best works were his original short stories featuring Nick Adams (ie Hemingway).
Over the years I have read about serial killers being caught with a copy of CITR either in their pocket or @ home. For this reason, I have avoided reading it, that way I can avoid "cracking."
Dialog---yes, I've always wondered why he never wrote a play.
Writers, musicians, artists, etc. are self-absorbed by both habit and natural inclination. Luckily, they are just a small segment of the general population.
My favourite Hemingway work is "A Farewell to Arms". I've never understood the fixation on J.D. Salinger however - A Catcher in the Rye isn't all that good.
Dare I suggest it would be more productive to read H.P. Lovecraft? ;)
For short stories go to Checkov
I've never read any Hemingway other than "The Old Man and the Sea". We were actually forced to read that book cover to cover in class while the teacher watched us, than write an essay about it for homework. I was so angry that I've never been able to bring myself to read any other Hemingway. I know I should get over this but I haven't been able to.
Yeah, Checkov is good. But I read the stuff and I keep thinking, Yeah, he's doing this, and this, and this. And from a technical aspect, it's great. Brilliant stuff. But, to admit a shortcoming, I never really loved a book that wasn't written by an American.
I couldn't stand CITR, but you're absolutely right, it started a whole new and repulsive genre.
When kids are at their most susceptible (junior high school age), teachers urge them to read these horrible stories where everybody in the family seems to be an alcholic, an incest victim, a jailbird, etc., with a whiny heroine who sits around and feels sorry for herself. And this Jerry Springer vision of the universe is pushed as being a reflection of normal everyday life. No wonder many kids seem to be jaded and cynical by the age of 15 now.
More than a few, I'd bet.
The Outsiders is one of the books that kids are req'd to read these days. It's sort of ''catcheresque'' but nowhere near as bad as catcher--which isn't to say that I enjoyed reading it, either.