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.
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