As I mentioned in my previous post, I loved Holden Caulfield when I first read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I was probably about 16 years old, which is Holden’s age. I read it again in college (20 years old) and I likewise enjoyed Holden’s story.
I didn’t love Holden on this third reading (age 28). In fact, as I read the first sentence, I groaned. Would I have to put up with this kid’s whining for another 214 pages? But in the end, I couldn’t hate Holden Caulfield, even after 215 pages of whining and complaining. His compassion redeemed him for me, and I’m so grateful I reread his story so I could experience it again from this perspective.
As I read Catcher this time, I was mostly mad at his parents. I kept seeing it from the adult-child relationship perspective. Why on earth are his parents sending him away to a boarding school when he needs some actual attention? He recently lost his brother, who was his best friend, and yet he’s expected to go to classes and successfully pretend that he’s okay with everything. There is no doubt in my mind that his depression is normal. It seems that many of his frustrations could have been eliminated if there were some dialog among the family members. He loved his little sister. He loved his dead brother. Certainly, if his father and mother nurtured that love, rather than packing him off to school, it would have helped him a bit. (I’m not saying parents that send their kids to boarding school don’t love, but in this book, the only emotion we get about Holden’s father is that he’s going to “kill” Holden for getting kicked out of school. Is that really helpful?)
But I admit, as much as I disliked Holden’s complaining and his frustrations, the end made me cry. (highlight for spoiler) To think that all he wanted to do with his life was be one that saved children from falling off a cliff; and that he wanted to rub out all the bad words on the walls, one at a time; and that he wanted to make sure his little sister got her $8 back again: that was touching to me. Holden showed that he really did care about people, despite his best intentions, and he wished he could relate to them. That was the tragedy to him. (end spoiler)
As some people pointed out in a comment the other day, the narration is amazingly believable. I think it is well written. But that believable narrator was probably why it irritated me on this reread. He just was too ornery for me.
Have you ever reread a favorite book only to find you now dislike it?
Have you ever reread a book you disliked only to discover you love it now? (I never thought to ask this before, as I don’t think it’s ever happened to me, but Mary’s comment the other day prompted it.)
I don’t think I’ll ever reread The Catcher in the Rye. I’m seriously sick of Holden Caulfield. But I’ll keep my copy of it. Someday I may hand it to my (older) teenage son to see what he thinks.
Holden in School
In June, J.C. Montgomery of the Biblio Blogazine shared analysis of the current argument that The Catcher in the Rye doesn’t belong in the classroom anymore because kids can’t relate to it. I read her post back in June and it prompted me to reread the book. I love her analysis of the arguments and the comments on that post are intriguing too. If you’ve read Catcher (and especially if you read it for school), go read her post.
Having now reread The Catcher in the Rye, I’d have to agree on a few points. Holden Caulfield’s story is dated. I’m not a teacher of an English class, but I look at Holden’s adventures, and I doubt many kids today can relate to the boarding school framework, the smoking, the drinking, the prostitute, and spending the night at Grand Central Station. Maybe I’m too naïve but I don’t think Holden’s night on the town is something 16-year-old boys are going to get away quite so easily today. I don’t think New York City is recognizable as New York City.
Now, as one of the comments on The Biblio Blogazine points out, it’s not always bad to read books that occur in unfamiliar eras or settings. I agree: we learn something about 1940s New York City.
But I wonder along with those who wrote the articles challenge Catcher in school: does Holden’s night on the town teach teenagers anything about dealing with troubles that might actually help them today in dealing with their own frustrations? I don’t think so. I don’t know what books might do so, but I certainly hope there is something else out there.
Do you think Catcher should be replaced in high school curricula? Can teens relate to it still? What books might better help teens deal with their insecurities? (I don’t read much young adult literature and I can’t think of an adult novel dealing with teen frustrations as this novel does.)
As I said, I enjoyed Catcher when I read it as a teen. I related to his ultimate goodness, not to his cursing and smoking and night on the town. In one of my high school assignments about the book (yes, I still have them all), I wrote:
Though he never admits it, [Holden] does not really want to leave his world to join the adult world. He wants to keep his world as it is for the children, innocent.
Ultimately, I don’t think Holden Caulfield corrupted me (take that, book banners!), and I don’t think the different era bothered me either. I liked Holden Caulfield when I was 16 because he wanted to stay a kid.
Apparently, I wanted to as well.
If you have reviewed The Catcher in the Rye on your blog, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.