That could be said of most novels I suspect. Not all mind you, but probably most.
It may have been a long time since I was seventeen, but after all I WAS once seventeen, and it is my memory, and so I can imagine how I would have thought about Holden back then. Of course, controlling for the fact that I am female, and that changes the dynamics as well.
By the way, I love the photo here. Hope you see the joke.
Holden is a sixteen-year-old who is having a tough time making his way through adolescence. Who hasn’t been there? In Holden’s case, it a bit more. His youngest brother has died. Adults have enough problems with the death of children, let alone children themselves.
Holden bounces from one prep school to another, somehow never quite fitting in. One senses that he fears real relationships, perhaps based on the death of his kid brother, although he considers his sister Phoebe to be a great girl, smart and worthy. Most everyone else is “phony”, Holden’s favorite word.
Yet of course Holden himself exhibits plenty of phoniness himself, from his attempts (sometimes successfully) to get served in bars, to make time with older girls. He is seemingly always perfectly cordial and polite to his elders, all the while condemning them in his head.
Caulfield struggles to hold on to those things he prizes–innocence, honesty, connection, and continually finds these attributes only in children. Adults always disappoint him. His parents are fairly non-existent, his teachers mostly “phony”. The most promising of his teachers whom he goes to stay with near the end, turns out, in Holden’s mind at least, to be a “pervert”.
Young folks reading Catcher will no doubt identify in small or large part, especially about adults being phony. Grown folks, with some real living under their belt, see something a bit different.
Perhaps it is the mark of a good novel, that upon finishing, one is unclear about what it all means. Did Holden “grow up” as he muses upon those couple of days from a psychiatric bed? Or was there no movement at all? Surely there are proponents of both.
Mark David Chapman, who shot and killed John Lennon, saw himself as Holden Caulfield. This is no condemnation of the book of course, nobody is responsible for the twisted delusions of a madman. I think it does point up the fact that one can see conclude that there is little uplifting in the story.
I guess I feel inclined to that end myself. I was forced to admit that most adults still lament the “inauthenticity” of most other adults. I mean, look at the political arena. If you can find a dozen truly authentic people in Washington, I’d be surprised. The same can largely be said of Hollywood, a place that Holden roundly condemned as phony.
So perhaps Holden saw things right, thought I would argue he was not a poster boy for authenticity himself. And Holden of course misses the point that care for the feelings of others sometimes causes us to hold the truth in favor of a benevolent lie.
As to the style? I thought Salinger did a brilliant job of writing in a way that translates well to spoken word. You could “hear” Holden. But the running on between speakers caused me to have to back up again and again to separate who was saying what. A minor criticism.
I suspect, and I find it amusing that this is one of those books that give kids fits who are assigned it. The reading is easy and fast for the most part, but then come all those infernal “deep” questions to write an essay about. One of my pet peeves about literature is the need to dissect books for their “symbolism” and “themes”. Sometimes a book is just “good” and “fun” without all that stuff. Horrified that I would say such a thing?
Sometimes books are just collections of artfully manipulated Extraordinary Words.
You can read this book online here.