21. The Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

What great book. Re-reading this novel was deeply rewarding. Through a tremendously flawed protagonist, Salinger explores in detail the mind of a unmentored, grieving adolescent. There are many lenses with which one can read this novel, but this is the one that works best for me. Obviously the story depicts a young man in the later stages of a mental breakdown, but I believe the loss of his brother, Allie, is reason enough for it. I don't think Holden is going crazy, as many academics do. There are literary "treatments" of this novel based on any number of faddish psycho crapola (such as oppositional defiant disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and the like), but I think Holden Caulfield's "downward spiral" is the result of a simple combination of grief and loneliness during the chaos of adolesence.

That is not to diminish the danger Holden is in- obsessing about death and loss, contemplating suicide, alienating himself from significant others in his life, not going home, punching out the garage windows... To be sure, Holden is not your average adolescent. It's just that I think that in this culture we are quick to diagnose and very slow to listen to what truth such a character is telling. By classifying him as some type of nut or other, we render ourselves unable to learn from his voice. The book has so much soul, dripping from every page. And yet it's so hard for us to shake mind-numbing phrases like, "psychoanalysis" (as in trying to decode the mind of the author) and "loss of/preserving innocence" that have been fed to us by nervous teachers. We are taught that this is a simple matter of "coming of age." What we don't hear often enough is that Holden, "the most terrific liar you'll ever meet," might be telling the truth. It's an emotional truth, and doesn't have much in the way of facts for our lazy intellects to gnaw upon, but it's goddam good.

It's no wonder Salinger got pissed and split.

We are all victims of academia's mandates on how to interpret this book. I recommend everyone read it again when your minds are less clouded than usual. Perhaps it would be best read right after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or some other mind liberating stuff. Perhaps just after you lose a loved one.

1 comment:

Olman Feelyus said...

Interesting critique. I don't think it's academia to blame. The intellectuals are just a filtering mechanism for a society that tends toward conformity and simplification. The academics put it into words, but most people feel more comfortable when characters like Holden can be categorized and a "solution" (usually scientific or institutional) can be found. The other, unthinkable, option is that society bend and flex to allow for a wider range of tolerated behaviours. The capitalist/materialist/bourgeois structure we have today is way too insecure to allow something like that to happen.