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?
J.D. Salinger should have restricted his writing to sh*t house walls. That's where it belonged in the first place.
You should kiss her. She could have made you read Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles...*shudder*
Thank God I can choose what I teach in Brit Lit! Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, Paradise Lost, etc. That's real literature!
Never, either. I selected the handle from an old memory of the sound of the name & a vague impression left over from seeing the movie when I was too young to remember much about it. Holly's name trips off of the tongue so delightfully, does it not? Still, she is a Holiday, while I am not.
The movie was a love story. The book was a tragedy. Holly was written as a tragic figure. And in ny event, Bonwitt Teller is long out of business.
(-former English teacher of British lit)
So they say. I caught a small portion of the movie shortly after I selected the handle. IMO, even the movie could not hide the tragedy. About all I could see was a shallow, empty existence. Maybe if I had watched the whole thing, I would have gotten a different impression.
The book was a tragedy. Holly was written as a tragic figure.
I guess because of "In Cold Blood", I always thought Capote's work was grim & dark. It got great reviews, so I picked it up & began reading it, but couldn't force myself through it. Add in his media appearances, they left me with the feeling that he was a bit creepy. I was surprised to find out he'd written "Breakfast at Tiffany's", as again, it was billed as such a wonderful love story.
Bonwitt Teller is long out of business.
I didn't know that, but I'm far from NY. I'm just a small town gal & not into shopping anyway. LOL
Holly's existance not so shallow as may first be assumed.
Remember, Capote, in spite of everything, was a small town Southern guy.
And In Cold Blood was a breakthrough book. Nobody had ever written a murder story like that before, that is, using the novelist's tools of the trade. Norman Mailer called it the product of a bankrupt imagination, then copied the exact same technique twenty years later with Executioner's Song, but did a lousy job of it.
In Cold Blood Bonus Trivia: Capote spent months in Kansas interviewing everyone involved. However, when he sensed hostility regarding his "lifestyle," he called his childhood/life long friend, Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) who promptly got on a train for Kansas with her father's old .45 and acted as his bodyguard for the duration of the interviewing process.
Regarding Holly, the first term that came to mind was brittle, defined in the sense of brittle laugher. When I say shallow, it's not the fluffy headed type of shallow, where there is no knowing any better. It's where you understand greater meanings, yet do not persue them. You attempt of to fill the emptiness with busyness, meaningless doings.
I'm sure "In Cold Blood" is a great read for many people. Delving into difficult, dark subjects is in some ways necessary, for some, for others...
Maybe I'm strange, but I mull & have for as long as I can remember. Writing my response to you brought another murder back into my mind, one that happened around the same time as Capote's book was published. The adults didn't talk about it around children, but you'd catch them talking about it with each other in hushed tones. I grew up in a small town & young women were just not found dead in a pool of their own blood, with over 30 stab wounds, not in small town, middle America. Diane had been a neighbor & my favorite babysitter when I was younger. Her murder has never been solved.
Anyway, I try to be careful about the kinds of things I bring into my psyche to mull about.
Your bonus trivia, LOL Yes, I can see that!
Holly was the type of character you can trace back to Becky Sharp (Thackery's Vanity Fair) etc.
And yeah, Capote was somewhat fascinated by the dark side of life, which he eventually fell into. I'd argue that he more or less squandered his talent, which was sizeable. Too many parties, too many drugs, too many wasted days yakking with rich women.
Bonus Capote Material (Warning: somewhat racey): Capote never went to college. Rather, he took a job in the mail room of The New Yorker Magazine. The story circulates, which he never denied, that one of his jobs was going across the street to a hotel where humorist/cartoonist James Thurber would meet his mistress. Thurber, who was by then almost blind, would have young Truman help him dress for his return to the office. Although Thurber's wife would dress him in the morning and undress him at night, vanity prevented asking his mistress to help. Unhappy with his assignment and ever the moralist, Truman turned the old man's socks inside out, so that his wife would be sure to notice when she helped undress him at night.
One of those stories that is repeated so often that it's almost as good as true.
I loved "Catcher" when I read it at age 14. Don't know if I'd still like it. Dad was in the IV infantry division in Europe with Salinger during WWII and actually knew the guy. By the time the IV got from the beaches of Normandy to Germany they had suffered a casualty rate of over 200%. However, Dad said that Salinger was a real oddball.
I will say that my daughter recently read Catcher (high school assignment) and liked it a lot. She is a no nonsense, no frills, upbeat, happy kid, so that amounts to a recommendation, IMO.
As for Hemingway, I have always adored "The Old Man and the Sea" and don't get the scorn being heaped on it on this thread. Influence of PC, I guess. I understand that Hemingway was supposed to have been a jerk, but he certainly could write!
Some folks seem to want to call those whose literary taste differs from there own liberals. An unhealthy habit, I think.
Wow----I haven't heard anyone mention Stop-Time in ages!
I read it just when it came out, when was that,in '67?
It got lots of attention, first because of its literary quality, and secondarily because of the (then) novelty of such a young (and completely unknown)writer breaking into literature with what was basically an AUTOBIOGRAPHY, as if he were already famous. Conroy was somewhere in his early 30s at the time and eventually as you no doubt know ran the Iowa Writers Workshop for many many years, I think he just announced his intention to resign a few months ago, and a successor has been chosen.(Marilynne Robinson, another writer who has written very little) I know he had a second book but I can't remember whether it was anovel or stories, and it didn't get that much attention (too long a wait between books will queer a critic's enthusiasm.)
I don't understand the fascination with JD Salinger. Just let the guy fade away already.
It's hard to say. I liked "Old Man and the Sea" but I really disliked "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Of course, I didn't like much Hemmingway anyway.
What was wrong with Butterfield 8? If you said, Rage to Live, I'd understand. But Butterfield 8?
You are so right! I've made the "off the interstates" a point all of my life. When I traveled overseas, I used the same principles. Yeah, check out the 'popular' spots but try the ones off of the beaten path. I can't even begin to describe the rewards of that philosophy. Sad to say, one of my ex-girlfriends lost me forever after wanting to go to the Orlando tourist traps instead of just 'exploring'. Oh, well....
That's right ,MIDAIR, couldn't remember the name. Of Dos Passos, I've only read USA and Three Soldiers, but nothing of Lawrence Durrell. His friend Henry Miller has given me as much pleasure as any other practitioner of fiction (though Miller was usually autobiographical) BLACK SPRING is unforgettable. Thinking about it some time ago, I realized that most of my favorite books ARE in fact basically autobiographies. The aforementioned Miller, Diary of a Madman by Strindberg, Because I was Flesh by Edward Dahlberg---this last one probably impressed me at the age of 21 or 22 as much as anything I've ever read. Here's another great American novel from about 1964: Richard Yates's REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, the first and best novel to anatomize the earliest generation to come of age after WW2(his own), settle in suburbia (Revolutionary Road is the name of the section of the development they live in), and lead rather unhappily conflicted lives of "quiet desperation". A GREAT NOVEL.
----BTW ---I noticed scrolling down this thread you mentioned Knowles as the author of THE COLLECTOR. It was Fowles. Didn't read the novel but the movie I remember as outstanding. Also I saw you mentioned Duke of Deception and Boy's Life by the Woolf brothers. Both fine books. Geoffrey is a friend of a writer friend of mine from the late 60s, who also has a coming of age novel that's good and worth reading, and basically is all about US in the late 60s early 70s---James Atlas, "The Great Pretender".
Ashamed to say, I haven't read Yates. One of the holes in my fiction education. However, I despise Henry Miller for reasons I don't quite understand. I read about three paragraphs of the guy and want to slap him silly. Durrell probably shouldn't be missed, though out of fashion. Also, if you're into honest writing, check out Jim Harrison, particularly his new memoir, Life on the Side. He was part of that whole montana group, including McGuane etc. And, he remains the only "celebrity" who has ever intimidated me.
Our teacher made us read a WHOLE collection of Salinger stories: it was absolutely mind numbing rot. Also on our high school literary agenda was "Black Like Me" (guilt), "The Pearl" (if you ever strike it rich, it'll make you greedy and your life will turn to tragedy etc). And a collection of Edgar A. Poe (by the way, drugs are bad).
I know lots of people have a BIG problem with Henry Miller,
men and women alike, and I can see their POV, since he was a non-romantic misogynistic sort, chauvinistic, user of women,etc. etc.
But for me his honesty is SO bracing, like Orwell's in DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON. Jim Harrison I know about, but haven't read. He probably made more money from Hollywood from that Brad Pitt movie than he got from his publishers ever.
But do try to read Yates---the most underrespected and underrated writer of his generation. He recently died, not terribly old, but a heavy drinker and smoker for decades, in and out of rehab, you know the story of so many writers.....
Miller's BLACK SPRING belongs in a very select class of barely disguisable autobiographical novels, like the ones I metioned, plus Genet's Thief's Journal. Denis Johnson is probably the best out there right now, and gets better and better know every year. ANGELS is a great book. Hope somebody makes it into a movie someday and does real justice to it. John Huston, where are you when we need you?
I actually liked the movie, Legends of the Fall. It was also the longest piece of fiction Esquire ever ran -- and that's when Esquire was Esquire. Orwell is very good, but misunderstood by the left who don't seem to realize he was a rabidly anti-communist, though lived a spartan life. Not a big Denis Johnson fan. Read Jesus' Son and kinda yawned -- paging Dr. Benway, paging Dr. Benway.
I liked Bob Uecker's version better, "Catcher in the Wry."
I don't really know Yardley but I instinctively dislike him immensely; all this fuss about a boy (Holden - can you imagine, "Holden?") who can't even get a decent erection without blushing while, since his posturing and rambling and senseless dissembling Portnoy nearly matched the Apollo Missions' accomplishments on his bedroom ceiling (and failed only because of the limitations of gravity and his parents love of Victorian architecture) we're still to imagine that spermatamoza and Salmon share a common destiny?
I would submit it might well be because it was the first book printed in about the fifty years preceding it that made the word "callow" a household term; I believe the author of this piece cleverly salted this peppery trail with this tidbit to see who suffered to the end of this tiresome and dreary cage-liner.
I have a love of the written word, the turn of a deft phrase, the excitement of being struck blindside by the twist upon the unsuspecting tongue but I do not parade in public my naked desperation to chase a long-departed train.
Well,isn't most of yesterday just unfinished tomorrows?
Isn't most of yesterday just an unfinished tomorrow?
Whenever I hear something about J.D. Salinger, I think about FIELD OF DREAMS...the James Earl Jones character who is supposed to be a J.D. Salinger type who is pissed off because everyone blames him for hating their parents!
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