Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye
Another BOTM Club read.  I went into it dreading it, thinking it was going to be another boring classic.  I was wrong, I loved it!  I loved the conversational style of writing, and the ease of reading.  
The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an man-child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield.  Holden leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. Finally his little sister is able to bring him home, and from there he is in a rest home for metal distress, which is where he is telling this story from.  But nobody really reads book reviews for the plot summary, they want to know what someone else thinks of the book.  If you want a plot summary, read the back cover.
I think Salinger did a great job of capturing a teenager character, when I read Holden's thoughts I can totally picture the greaser teenager rebel boy from the 50's, trying so hard to be a "cool" guy. Do you remember being a teenager and thinking you knew it all and nobody, especially not an ADULT could understand you or your problems?  Salinger captured that feeling and made me remember those many years gone.
And of course a teenager thinks he is better than everyone else, teenagers are egotistical beyond belief, that is what drives their parents so nuts. I mean to an extent teenager think about other, but mainly they think about themselves and what will may them the coolest or most popular. I think Salinger did a great job of capturing the teenager mindset in Holden. Nobody understands him and when he is talking to his professors you can get that he knows the adult is trying to help him, but how can he help Holden if he doesn't understand where Holden is coming from?  I remember as a teenager that we picked stupid fashion, and clung to it as a way to express our individuality, the hunting hat just leads more credence to the teenager persona. I'm trying to think of something stupid that was big when we were kids, the only thing that comes to mind is the guys in high school wearing those stupid dog choke chains as necklaces, but I'm sure there were other things.
Holden also has a ton of misconceptions about women, and I’m not sure if that is his nativity or the era. Although he does seem to be a flop with women, mainly I think because of his misconceptions of them.  Gosh teenage romance was always more dramatic than it needed to be, too many hormones and not enough confidence. Holden didn’t interact with girls anywhere in a mature way because he thought he might look uncool, then he gest frustrated with himself for not speaking up.   Then when a classmate  (Stradlater) has a date with Jane (a girl Holden likes) he get jealous and starts a fight for no apparent reason, or at least no apparent reason to the other guy.  Again falls inline with teenage character acting without thinking.
I think that lately all the teenagers in books are these deep, profound, mature characters. Teenagers aren't really like that, they are whiny, self-centered and conflicted. They often have shallow thoughts and come up with hair-brained ideas, that an adult would never do because they have too much sense to do stupid stuff. Teenagers cuss a lot, because especially in the 50's, it was a taboo thing, they were not supposed to use that language and to rebel its goddamn this and goddamn that.   It makes me laugh a little at my lack of annoyance at Holden, I usually have low tolerance for self-centered characters. But I am able to remember what drama teenagers create in their own lives, and how disconnected from adults that they can feel. I get it, I get what Salinger is trying to do he has captured a teenager boys perspective of the world around him during a troublesome time.
Holden is quite the liar, he lies to everyone, although they aren’t malicious lies, in fact they are almost benevolent lies, when he tell the kid’s mom that the guy is swell and was nominated for class president, it was to make her feel better not himself. And I know a liar is a liar, I just find it interesting that the nature of his lies are for the benefit of others and not so much himself.
This kid has lost a brother and I bet he is having so many problems in school and with people because he probably didn't really deal with the death, it was the 50's its not like they put him in grief counseling, he was expected to be a man and just get over it. Remember in the 50's men were men and not emotional, so how does a teenager who has tones of puberty hormones and emotions also deal with the grief at the loss of his brother, he takes it out on the world around him.   I think Holden is just a very lonely boy, who is trying to find someone, anyone he can connect with. I think that is why he asks such oddball questions of complete strangers and gets so upset when they don’t respond in a kind manner. I think it was another cry for attention when he just wanted to talk to the prostitute, a bit cliché but still it is what it is.  I think the questions are trying to find a deeper meaning in life and death.
I think Holden is still just trying to deal with Allie’s death, he is really focusing on his memories of his brother and trying to deal with them on his own, it makes me sad for him. Also the poor kid got his ass kicked twice in one day, I wonder if he is looking for fights because the physical pain of getting his ass kicked takes away from the emotional pain of missing his brother.
I thoroughly enjoyed  this book, and I love the line "I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot." To me it summed up so many teenager contradictions, I have actually thought about this line multiple times since I read the book. What was Holden getting at, did he mean that he read a lot, but didn't retain what he read? Did he mean he read a lot, but not what would be considered by Adult's to be good books? Did he mean that he read a lot, but that he didn't understand what he was reading? Did he mean he read a lot of types of books, not just a genre?   Someone who reads a lot can't be illiterate, by definition. But Holden is using the word to express other people's standards. I think that what he really means is "I don't read what they want me to read, but I read a lot."  Throughout the book Holden does what he wants, but it still doesn’t make him feel good.  That element of approval is missing, and so he reads a lot, but not what would be approved, and so he fails again.

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