Monday, February 1, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

American author, J. D. Salinger, recently died…but the voice he gave Holden Caufield will continue to resonate…in our psyche. Salinger’s book, The Catcher in the Rye, with its themes of alienation, the phoniness of adults, the innocence of youth, and the painfulness of growing up….struck a chord with every teenager who read it.

J.D. Salinger, died at the age of 91, a recluse in Cornish, New Hampshire. I’ve actually been to Cornish…not to stalk Salinger, or to look for a Cornish hen, but to visit my sister, Jayniebug, who lived in the area for 20 years. The people of Cornish always gave Salinger his space, and even helped him live his life of self-imposed isolation…by keeping outsiders away.

I remember reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was 16. The Catcher in the Rye was the first REQUIRED reading in high school…I actually enjoyed. A novel idea. I looked at my English teacher in a new light. “Mr. Johnson…you, dirty dog, you.…assigning a book containing countless swears and provocative situations.” It was the first time I had seen the F-word in print (bathroom stalls don’t count), and the word “goddam” was written so often, I tried to count the number. But quit after 100.

Teenagers through the years, who have read The Catcher in the Rye, easily identify with Holden’s angst. Feeling like not belonging. Feeling awkward and alienated. Seeing the adult work as phony, superficial, and hypocritical. Wanting to show individuality through self-expression.

Holden expressed his individuality, his desire to be different, by wearing a red hunting hat. It could be considered the equivalent of a teenager today…covered in tats. Although, I would venture to say, the red hunting hat is much easier to remove than a sleeve of tattoos.

A few years ago, another author tried to publish a book describing Holden Caufield’s life…60 years later…but Salinger’s lawyers sued to block its publication. I would never buy the book. I prefer to leave Holden at age16…the way we care to remember him...angst and all.

Besides, most people by the time they get to my age know what happens to Holden Caufield after 60 years.

Holden would have been forced to grow up and enter the world of phony adults…forced to conform and wear his red hat…only for hunting…forced to join society and become a card carrying productive member…get a job, pay bills, educate his kids…yada, yada, yada. And Holden would have answered his own burning question, the question he repeatedly asked adults: "Where do the ducks in Central Park go when the lagoon freezes?"

Holden would have learned…as we all learn when we grow up…that ducks fly south…to Florida. He would have been to Florida in the winter and seen the increase in bird population…ducks, geese, and snowbirds. Especially the snowbirds. Holden would have seen snowbirds for miles and miles…..

Thank you J.D. Salinger for Holden Caufield, the Catcher in the Rye…the Holder of our Youth.


big C said...

i like this one and i loved the book myself!!! i did not know he passed away.... this blog makes me want to re-read it!

Anonymous said...

great book and author. at least J.D. lived a looong life, even though Holden probably would have felt sympathy for him for that...too bad Holden couldn't have caught him before he ran off the cliff of the rye field!


Anonymous said...

p.s. this book always reminds me of dad because every time someone would mention it he would open up the book and find that quote in chapter 22 describing what the catcher in the rye meant!!

Jayne said...

Did you know that the guy that killed John Lennon, Mark Chapman use carry "catche in rye" around. He said he identified with Holden Caulfield.

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