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.
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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.