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Sat May 31, 2014, 09:15 PM

A Thought About Catcher In the Rye

I read it years ago and thought "What a whining shit this Holden Caulfield is." I hold to that. The biggest 'phony' in the book is Holden Caulfield. And I'm not the first to say that, I'm probably the millionth. And it is that book was intended to be part of a series, each titled after a baseball position and a grain, "The Pitcher in the Wheat", "The First Baseman in the Oats", the "Second Baseman in the Barley", "The Third Baseman in the Quinoa", "The Shortstop in the Rice", "The Left Fielder in the Spelt", "The Center Fielder in the Corn", and "The Right Fielder in the Millet". But after finishing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger decided that he had said all he had to say, and decided to shut down. A wise thing that other writers could emulate.

But in my opinion, and as far as I can discern, this book is popular because J.D. Salinger's character is the FIRST teenager in literature to talk the way teenagers actually talk. That is the reason for its popularity among the young. Everybody who went to high school in the 40's and 50's knew a self absorbed shit like Holden Caulfield. He's real. He sweats real sweat and farts real farts. Contrast him to other literary teens, Andy Hardy, Penrod, the kids in Our Town and so on. How prettied up they seem. How fake they seem. Their 'Golly, gosh, gee's fade before a single 'damn' from Holden Caulfield.

Salinger freed writers to describe teenagers as they 'are', not as they 'should be'.

Wolf

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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply A Thought About Catcher In the Rye (Original post)
Wolf Frankula May 2014 OP
Curmudgeoness May 2014 #1
raccoon Jun 2014 #2
SheilaT Jun 2014 #3
Conch Dec 2015 #12
SheilaT Dec 2015 #13
Susannah Elf Apr 2015 #4
SheilaT Apr 2015 #5
Susannah Elf Apr 2015 #6
SheilaT Apr 2015 #7
Susannah Elf Apr 2015 #8
SheilaT Apr 2015 #9
Susannah Elf Apr 2015 #10
closeupready Apr 2015 #11
Menshunables Dec 2015 #14

Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Sat May 31, 2014, 09:46 PM

1. Funny you should bring this up.

I am about halfway through that book right now. I had never read it when I should have, when I was younger, but I am working through some of the popular classics that I have not read.

I think that you could have a point about Holden actually sounding like a teenager instead of being phony. But I also think that the popularity could be from how much of a nerd he was. And we all know that there are a lot more teenagers who are not the in-crowd than who are. He is real.

I am not excited about the book personally, but that is because it reads like a stream of conscious novel, with rambling and changing of subject constantly....which always drives me crazy. But I will finish it. Maybe I will have a different opinion by that time.

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Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Sun Jun 1, 2014, 07:00 AM

2. That makes a whole lot of sense. I read the book in college, and I didn't

care for it, not did I care for Holden.

But as you say, many literary teens, pre-Holden, seem so fake. Same as families in sitcoms of days past seem so fake.

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Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Mon Jun 2, 2014, 03:01 AM

3. I think the essential problem with the book

 

is that Holden Caulfield, a total jerk, is a member of a very tiny class that hardly anyone can relate to.

He's from a wealthy family who can continue to buy his way into yet another private school as he is thrown out of the last one It would be interesting to find out the actual statistics of what percentage of kids went to private school back when Salinger was that age, and then when the book was published, and now. It would always have been a minority of kids. Which means Caulfield is from a privileged minority that most cannot relate to.

I chose to send my kids to a private school mainly because my oldest son was being bullied in the public school, and we were fortunate enough to have that choice. And as bad as the public schools in my rather affluent area were, the private school was a real eye-opener about what privilege could bring about. Fortunately, we were no where near as rich as many of the parents at that school. Unfortunately, Holden Caulfield would have fit in quite well. While that school didn't have kids who'd been through several other private schools along the way, it did have ones whose parents replaced crashed luxury cars with apparently no qualms. Our comparative poverty stood us in good stead.

But I can tell you that my younger son, who was in the private school starting in third grade, had absolutely no connection whatsoever with Caulfield. I think too much has changed since the novel was written, too much has changed from the world Salinger is conveying, for kids today (and that son would have read Catcher a good fifteen years ago) to begin to connect with it.

So okay. The language is more realistic. BFD. Caulfield is still a jerk, still a child of privilege that has little or no connection to the present.

So okay. All of us are in some sort of minority or another. But when someone chooses to write about whatever particular group, that author needs to make us understand and relate to that person, that group. But Salinger utterly fails at this. Caulfield is a jerk. A self-involved, whining asshole who has no clue about anything outside of his own neediness.

It's a stupid book and is simply not worth reading. It is absolutely not worth being required reading for today's students.

I'm guessing your statement about the others in the supposed series is totally tongue-in-cheek. Very Onionesque.

In any case, it's completely overrated. It should be read simply as an example of what the hot house of prep schools could produce.

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Response to SheilaT (Reply #3)

Tue Dec 1, 2015, 06:58 PM

12. Couple of things.

First, I know it has been a while since you posted but...

"But I can tell you that my younger son, who was in the private school starting in third grade, had absolutely no connection whatsoever with Caulfield. I think too much has changed since the novel was written, too much has changed from the world Salinger is conveying, for kids today (and that son would have read Catcher a good fifteen years ago) to begin to connect with it. "

One thing that hasn't changed is adults being accurately able to understand what kids relate to.

I have no great insight into kids. I am a teacher and have a toddler... so I, like you have some insight; I could be far off here but I imagine a child's connection to Caulfield is no less likely than an adults connection to a third grader. The language has nothing to do with the theme and the language isn't what drew it to readers it was the universal theme of adolescence being misunderstood.

Next, "It's a stupid book and is simply not worth reading. It is absolutely not worth being required reading for today's students." Well, your opinion certainly makes sense to you..and you think your opinion should be some sort of universal jury. Thank goodness it isn't. I don't think any book should be required. In fact there is no book that is required reading I teacher To Kill a Mockingbird. It is part of my curriculum but it certainly isn't required anymore than driving the speed limit is. If you don't read it don't get caught and if you truly have a problem let me know. If you have a valid argument we can always work something out. However, who the hell would I be to say what is or isn't, "worth reading?" I make that determination for me... I won't read a great many books but that's an opinion that only deals with my reading list.

Lastly, about 50% of your post regarded your ability to put your kids into a private school. It occurs to me there was probably a reason for that. So, I would like to say congratulations! That is obviously something that you take pride in and I hope benefits your children.

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Response to Conch (Reply #12)

Tue Dec 1, 2015, 10:58 PM

13. Thank you for your response to me.

 

Since you're a teacher, you're going to get things I simply won't.

Back to "Catcher in the Rye" I first read it when I was somewhere in my twenties, in the 1970's, and I actually liked it a lot, even though it portrayed a world that was already long dead by then. To be honest, my enjoyment of the book was in no small part because I thought I understood that world, even though I'd never been a part of it.

I believe Salinger was very much a part of the world that Holden Caulfield inhabits: the world or private schools and privilege. A world hugely separated from ordinary public schools. Perhaps because my kids started out in public schools, and only wound up in a private school for very specific reasons, and not because we were of the class of people who of course sent our kids to private schools, that I recognize the gulf between Holden Caulfield's world and mine. Which is to say, between J D Salinger's world and mine.

I like it that you say you have books in your curriculum but they aren't required. How do you deal with the kids who don't want to read a specific book in the curriculum? How free a choice do they have? That's not intended as a gotcha question, but an genuine inquiry as to how you handle such things. And, do you care about catching out the kids who only read the Cliff Notes?

The more fundamental point of what's worth reading would require a lengthy face to face conversation, hopefully with plenty of wine to fuel the conversation. I have taken various literature courses in junior college, and since I was an older student at that point, I tended to enjoy the required reading much more than I would have at a younger age. I've also had the pleasure of reading, on my own, various books that are often required reading, and enjoyed them tremendously. The best example here is that some years ago, when Talk of the Nation had its bookclub on the air, and one of the books chosen was "Uncle Tom's Cabin" I decided to read it. I figured it would be a slog, but it was one of those classics that I knew I should read. Well, for me the first fifty pages were a bit of a slog, but after that it picked up, and I simply could not put the book down. One of the best things I've ever read. Better yet, I got to be one of the on-air participants in the first half hour of the discussion, which is still one of the high points of my life.

It is certainly possible that had my son picked up "Catcher in the Rye" on his own he'd have loved it, and it was the required reading aspect that spoiled it for him. Alas, there's no way of knowing.

Again, thank you for your thoughtful response to my post.

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Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Mon Apr 13, 2015, 02:01 AM

4. The other side

Personally I don't need to love the narrator to love a book. I also don't have to have a lot in common with them. I grew up lower middle class, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a book about a rich kid. Holden's family's money did nothing to help him navigate the world. Sure, he went to prep schools but he still kept flunking out. And I don't think he is a narcissist at all. If anything he spends too much time thinking and worrying about other people. Like the nuns he sees at the train station. He himself is so unhappy that if he thinks about anyone for more than three minutes, he invents all kinds of anxieties for them. Anyways, don't get too hung up on Holden's wealth. It's just a circumstance like any other, and no one is guaranteed happiness no matter their privilege.

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Response to Susannah Elf (Reply #4)

Fri Apr 17, 2015, 11:40 PM

5. At the risk of nit-picking,

 

young Holden doesn't so much flunk out as he's *expelled* over and over because he's a total fuck-up.

It's my impression that back then academics often didn't matter very much in the private schools. I could be wrong. I do know that good secular private schools these days have a very strong emphasis on academics, and it's somewhat harder for the rich, privileged kids to skate by.

Even so, the world of private schools, even today, and I think a lot more so back when Salinger was writing, is a world in which there aren't really any consequences. That's still true today with rich kids. They can screw up over and over, get bailed out over and over, and never quite get it that there will come a time when they won't be bailed out. As I noted above, I witnessed that at my kids' private school.

Not that the parents of public school kids don't also do that, rescue their kids and protect them from consequences, far too often.

Holden's wealth, actually his family's wealth, is important, because without that, he'd have been a high-school drop-out, would have gone to work in a factory somewhere, become an alcoholic and an abusive husband and father.

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Response to SheilaT (Reply #5)

Sat Apr 18, 2015, 09:03 AM

6. His money does matter

but it doesn't insulate him from unhappiness. When I read Catcher, I relate to his angst, to his fear of the future. He predates the sixties generation who said en masse that the life their parents lived is not good enough. I suspect that if he used those words, it would be instantly recognizable that he's not just a spoiled rich kid.

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Response to Susannah Elf (Reply #6)

Sat Apr 18, 2015, 04:18 PM

7. You're right that money doesn't insulate Holden from unhappiness.

 

It doesn't insulate anyone. But he's still a self-involved selfish prick. And the family money has enabled that.

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Response to SheilaT (Reply #7)

Sun Apr 19, 2015, 12:00 AM

8. Who is he a prick to?

I honestly can't remember. And what 16 year old isn't self involved? I love how real is Holden's voice in this book. I think it's brilliant writing.

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Response to Susannah Elf (Reply #8)

Sun Apr 19, 2015, 01:22 AM

9. My recollection is that he's that way to everyone around him.

 

And even though it's true many kids are quite self-involved, I don't see that as an admirable trait.

You have mentioned the thing that is most admired about the book, which is Holden's voice. For me, it just doesn't work. It's a slice of life from an age that is long gone, and for me doesn't have a universal value. Clearly, you do see the universal value here.

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Response to SheilaT (Reply #9)

Sun Apr 19, 2015, 10:51 AM

10. I still don't see it.

He's nice to the pimply guy in his dorm, he treats the old teacher respectfully and in fact worries about him, he changes his mind about hiring a prostitute because he sees her as a normal girl and decides that prostitution is sad... I could go on. The nuns, the taxi driver, his sister. I can't see any meanness in him.

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Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Thu Apr 23, 2015, 03:34 PM

11. I read it years ago; didn't enjoy it at all. As others here have said,

 

I couldn't relate to the protagonist, didn't even like him, and it was always a book which intelligent people were supposed to like. Very overrated.

I suppose someone could argue that literature doesn't need to be enjoyable in order to be great; and I say, sure, that's true, but CITR is just boring. If nobody ends up reading it, it may be great, but who cares.

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Response to Wolf Frankula (Original post)

Fri Dec 4, 2015, 06:44 PM

14. It's been a long while since I read that

 

but I recall clearly the What??? is This??? back then. It was not the great novel I was expecting. It was dull and uninteresting and I had to cattle prod myself to finish it.

I'm re-reading Crime and Punishment - which I recall having fond memories of from way back for some odd reason. No. I'm forcing myself to read it like it's an assignment. It's so badly written! I feel awful saying that.

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