the classics club / writing

Catcher in the Rye (yes, that book)

I finished my reread of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye quite awhile ago, but waited until I’d gotten through it with my American Lit classes before posting on it. Part of the discussion they engage in seems to help me take the books I read a little further that just my own reading of them.  If that makes any sense.

I first read the book in college, on my own, when I was about twenty or twenty-one years old. A bit older than the protagonist, Holden, but I remember really relating to the story and the character even though I recognized how very non-Holden like I was then and as a teenager. Something about his experiences and point of view resonated even with me; the good girl. That and with how the book has influenced pop culture, I was very excited about teaching it this year.

It didn’t resonate. On the whole, with my students. Which bewildered me and also taught me that I should probably not get so excited about a book via teaching again. Some found Holden to be a jerk (which I agree with) and some couldn’t empathize or sympathize with him (which I didn’t understand). Maybe it’s all personality, but I want to hug Holden by the end. I’m not so romantic as a reader that I think I would actually be friends with Holden. I think he, with his cynicism and hypocrisy, would probably frustrate me as much as he frustrated those in the book. I don’t idealize him. He is/was a jerk and pushed people away, but I feel for him and his loss and confusion. It doesn’t matter that I never experienced the things he did (prep school, loss of a sibling, absent parents, possible sexual abuse, New York City). At the core of Holden is the viewpoint that adulthood is scary and that phoniness is real. And all that is true. Being a teen is hard, even if it’s a privileged life or not. The learning, both in and out of the classroom, at that age is confusing and affecting. There is so much you figure out and so much that you still have to learn. You’re treated as both an adult and a child at the same time and are supposed to know when to act like which. That is what Holden’s story says to me.

He breaks my heart. It’s probably my maternal instincts, but I think he could use a hug and someone to just listen. He so desperately needed to feel that he’d been heard even though he couldn’t actually say what he wanted to for the course of the story. I enjoy the voice and how authentic it is, even sixty years later. The symbolism of the carrousel, the hunting cap, the ducks in the pond and Allie’s baseball mitt. I like that even with a jerk of a character, Salinger causes me to care for a boy who I don’t have a thing in common with except simply; the human condition.



© ecnewman, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

7 thoughts on “Catcher in the Rye (yes, that book)

  1. I read this when I was a young teenager and loved it. But, I can hardly remember any of the detail so I’m planning to read it now (many years later!) for my classics club list. I wonder if I will feel the same as you or your students?!

    • I think it’s nice to see it from an adult’s point of view. I think I understand the adult characters so much more than I ever could at 20. Hope you enjoy it!

  2. Catcher has always been a favorite of mine. Like you, I empathized with the troubled Holden Caulfield. His story broke my heart a little bit.

  3. I’m starting to think that students (wrongly) believe that if they don’t initially care for a character that the book in question must not be well-written. While this isn’t to proclaim that endless parades of theory open up a book for some students, the dismissive standard that “I didn’t like ____________” often lead students to refuse any further investigation.

    So, those equally interesting questions about how Holden is divorced from any other real familial or social connection become lost in a sea of students’ indifference. Books that remain at a remove from empathy, I fear, are becoming harder and harder to teach and get students to engage with critically. The true danger is, of course, that a lot of the major classic and contemporary literature opts for the remove from empathy.

  4. Even though I don’t really care for CitR, I liked your review, especially this: At the core of Holden is the viewpoint that adulthood is scary and that phoniness is real.

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