Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!
Do you identify at all with Holden Caulfield?
It’s been a while since I’ve read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve read it twice, however: once in high school and once a few years later. The difference in enjoyment was stark for me. I don’t think I was an angsty teen at all, even in retrospect, and no one I knew as a teen ever characterized me as such; nonetheless, I did relate to the book and Holden’ frustrations far more as a teen than I did even a few years later. I think this is a book most people would most appreciate while they are in high school.
So what was so appealing? Holden may have been a bit angrier than I was as a teen, but I identified with his general frustration that a lot of people are “phoney.” Maybe that sounds cynical. But high school is filled with people trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. There are people who do things they’re uncomfortable with just to be cool. There are people who pretend to join clubs they don’t care about just to put it on their college applications. And then there are adults–people who keep telling you things like “Your teachers next year won’t stand for this” and “Next time I’m not accepting any late work,” and none of it ever actually comes to pass. There are your parents who say one thing to you and another to other adults. Basically, there are a lot of reasons to think the world might be “phoney.”
I don’t know how I would feel about the book today, and perhaps a second re-read is in order. Maybe I’ve just accepted what seems to be the ever-present adult mantra that “life isn’t fair,” but I would hope I could continue to sympathize a bit with a character who’s frustrated that it seems so unfair and sometimes fake. That doesn’t mean that all of Holden’s gripes are necessarily valid, but I think critics who dismiss him as a whiny crybaby and nothing more might be missing something.
What do you think? Comment with a link to your post if you participated this week or just comment with your opinion of Holden!