Monday, July 7, 2008

To Catch a Salinger...

# 94 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Larry David is Holden Caulfield all grown up.

One’s perspective on a literary work is ever-evolving. To read a novel at 12 is monumentally different than at 15. Rendering an opinion at 21 yields an even fresher outlook that makes your previous readings elementary. However, no matter what age, when one reads a work for a third time, it is quite natural for more in-depth conclusions to be drawn.

This description describes my third stab at J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Recommended to me by my grandfather at an early age, I became enamored with the piece. Re-reading it again in high school, the infatuation continued. Checking Facebook recently, it appeared that I would not be alone in my fondness for the novel.

That reason is exactly why I decided to tread very carefully for my third read through and subsequent review. I feel in a lot of ways that the books in Harry Potter series are the only novels read more by America's youth -- and possibly by the greater population as whole -- than The Catcher in the Rye. People don't like to read criticisms on things they cherish. (Check out Left of the Dial's review and comments for the recent Pattern is Movement album if you don't believe me.)

All that said, I still liked the story of Holden Caulfield's odyssey. A lot. But in many different ways than I did when I was 12.

One aspect the novel excels in is Salinger's masterful characterization of a teenager. Caulfield's language in narration accurately portrays how dumb teenagers really are, drastic their emotions can change in a second and -- despite claims to moral superiority -- hypercritical teenagers can be.

His constant inclusion of the word "ironical" was comical and something I overlooked as a child (possibly because at the time I thought it was a word). Other great words in his vernacular that he overused the shit out of include: "lousy," "terrific," "bastads," "flit," " sexy stuff," "pervy" and, of course, "phony." This really illustrates the limited vocabulary possessed by Caulfield and teens in general. Salinger's ability to capture this verbal immaturity rounds out Caulfield's character and gives insight to his stunted maturity level, as well.

Caulfield emotionally describes things that are important to him in one instant, than insignificant the next. He's the king of the mood swing. And very slight things set him off. Everything rains on his parade. Judgmental to a fault, he lets others personality aspects affect his emotions and stunts his individual growth. While eating lunch with two nuns, he becomes very upset initially because of the presence of a shabby-looking basket for charity collections. Despite the nuns reassurance to him that they are teachers and weren't collecting money, he dwells on this one detail and can't enjoy what would otherwise be a pleasant lunch. This occurs later when Holden runs into his brother's ex-girlfriend in a bar. Her new boy is an Ivy League chap, which instantly makes him a jerk. Holden leaves just because he's a fancy college boy. In a lot of ways, Holden is like Larry David.

Instead of expounding on Caulfield's hypocrisy (and teens in general), I'll just list a few that bugged me:

--Hates movies, but consistently goes.
--Lashes out at Ackley for standing in his light, later ignores Stradlater's request to move out of his light.
--Cringes at Stradlater's motives as always being sexy, then invasively questions Columbia kid's sex life in a bar.

There's more, but those ones stuck in my mind, weeks later.

Children play an important part in the novel and really give credence to my mother's theory that the phrase "the catcher in the rye" is about parenthood. The only people it seems that Holden can tolerate are children. Whether it be a kid playing in the street, two boys "being yellow" at the Museum of Natural History, a little girl asking for help with her skate key or any instance involving his sister Phoebe or deceased brother Allie, Caulfield only has peace of mind when dealing with children. He greatly wants to protect all those young (as seen in helping those boys in the museum, using the girl's skate key or wiping "Fuck" off the school's wall). He wants to be the catcher in rye making sure they don't fall off that cliff.

It is "ironical," though, because Caulfield himself is just a child -- his maturity level is so stunted that he can't tolerate being around people his own age who care about things unrelated to childhood. In no way can he help kids out; he needs to find his own catcher. He tries in vain to search for one, too. The old teacher at Pencey, Jean Gallagher, Stradlater, Ackley, Sally Hayes, his former English teacher now at NYU, a former student at a previous school, D.B., his sister are all potential catchers. Oddly his parents are the only ones he doesn't actively pursue for help. Sure, Holden is a basket-case, but he really is only looking for a little guidance.

Salinger may be a mystery and I hope sometime we find those manuscripts he's hid away since the 1950s, but his gift of Holden Caulfield to all teenagers (and to those lost in general) is enough of a literary contribution that will live on well past his death. Maybe The Catcher in the Rye itself serves as a self-help book for all those souls out there looking for something to relate with. Maybe that's why it's in everyone's Facebook profiles.

In the very least, it establishes proper etiquette on how not to talk to a pimp.

The next book will be (#93) The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa -- an I-Tall-Yan.

1 comment:

The Lady Doth Protest said...

A+ Sam! I imagine I'm going to have to teach this book at some point in my lifetime and I hope students get more out of it than "Man, I can totally relate to this guy," becuase I'm pretty sure I DONT want those kids in my class.