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 ...
Hell man, that's my dream, and I'm 41 years old!! My problem is that my children keep jarring me rudely from that dream.
I read almost nothing but sci-fi till I was in my mid teens. I've flipped through a number of Michner's works on rainy weekend afternoons. But just a few years ago I picked up Fires of Spring and was blown away. So thoroughly removed from the rest of his stuff. The whole matter of just how "autobiographical" it really was, was the $64,000 dollar question. I know he several times referred to himself in interviews as a "foundling" which was old-timey code for illegitimate/left-on-the-church-doorstep.
Also, when I was a kid, I read Caravans after seeing the excreble Anthony Quinn/Michael Sarrazin movie version and found it quite educational.
There was also Leon Uris Exodus (the parental units had picked up a Mantovani album wherein he and his orchestra play the themes of early sixties movie classics with a bunch of other old records at a flea market) I couldn't get that main theme out of my head so I checked out the book. In retrospect, the prose was a little overwrought and I remain seriously uncomfortable with historical novels that mix fictional characters with real ones--telescope timelines, combine incidents, smooth over ugly spots, etc. but it did get me started on the Middle East. Leon Uris has been heard to lament that more people read his Trinity than all the other books on Ireland put together (a great favorite of IRA types).
The sixties saw the simultaneous mass marketing of the "hep cat" and perceived disallusionment with the status quo.
I think that began in the 50's as the men who came home from WWII and Korea starting working in movies and TV.
The latter 60's were a direct result of the Pill, the Viet Nam War, and drugs.
I'm glad to see "Catcher in the Rye" receiving negative reviews. While the writing style is good, often close to poetic, the deeper implications of the book (especially when given to adolescents) are rancid -- that a 16-year-old cannot survive in society because it abandons him, sexualizes him (the advances of his homosexual teacher) and finally dumps him in a mental institution.
While this is a viable cautionary tale for parents not to ignore their kids, it's a terrible book to give to impressionable 14-year-olds who will identify with Holden's schizophrenia.
I started questioning this book for students when my H.S. freshman son had to read "The Collector." A competently-written, but lurid and grotesque book. To what end? To tell kids we are all held captive to a depraved world?
They can get that from "Will & Grace."
Based on the fact Hinckley had it on him when he shot Reagan.
Some of my favorite English literature is Lord Of The Flies by William Goulding and just about everything by J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Dickens. Some of my favorite American literature was written by John Updike, Jack London and Mark Twain. I say, bring back Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to our schools! Of course, the politically correct teacher's unions will have nothing to do with that.
I'll probably read it again someday, and if I do I'll consider skipping the passages that are nonfiction. As for the fiction, Moby Dick contains what must be one of the finest opening paragraphs in all of fiction:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
You were lucky in your English teachers, I suspect. Not many people read these books by choice.
I thought (at the age of 18) that Jack Kerouac was the one to follow. Now at age 60, I wonder where my brain was.
That's OK. The beauty of literature is that there is plenty for everybody, no matter what their tastes. Like a lot of people, apparently, I just don't think those books belong in a canon of required reading.
The complete inability of modern English teachers to understant Huckeberry Finn is downright scandalous. They foolishly call the book rascist because Twain used the language of the day, without realizing that Jim is the hero and the book is an attack against rascism.
My 10 year old son and I just read Old Man and the Sea out loud. I didn't expect much. Had read it many years ago. But I had unwittingly fallen prey to the anti-Hemingway literary propaganda (critics and biographers, I mean, not political) of the past 3 decades. It was astoundingly good. There's kind of a drippy social justice episode at the very end, when a rich lady notices the skeleton of the big marlin and thinks it's a shark, but it's only about 50 words long. I should have known better. The guy could really, really write; he was a groundbreaking voice in prose; and if he had his faults (and he did), he was still great.
I liked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The entire pop culture has become Holden. Remeber when banana fish were considered a rare delicacy?
I had to do a nine month project on The Sound and the Fury in high school, and hated every minute of it. How can you write a term paper on a novel when the author himself admits it's a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing?
Had an old lady English teacher in S. Mississippi in 69-70. She probably would have been mortified by "Catcher in the Rye", from what I've heard of it. We did a lot of 18th and 19th century lit, but Steinbeck and Hemingway were about as 'current' as we got.
My thoughts exactly for the last 10 months.
Holy crap! Some english teacher assigned the Collector!?!
Knowles isn't as bad as that one book -- i.e. the Magus, French Lt's Woman, etc. etc. (also lurid etc.) but kinda interesting. But it's not a high school book. Go and beat that teacher with a stick immediately!
To all -- sorry had to run out on errands. No opportunity to answer all the responses...
I was interested in why Holly would be quoting Neitchez and not the Bonwitt Teller Fall Season Catalogue.
Catcher in the Rye was quite simply a yawner and a waste of time.
They won't bring back HF and other classics because they feel they have to compete against TV, hip-hop music, and the internet. So they pander to the students by giving them crap. These kids are raised on a junk food diet of literature without ever tasting the gourmet stuff. Is it any wonder they don't read?