Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Catcher and I

Over the holidays, I read The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J. D. Salinger, for the first time. Yes, I had never read it! Had I read this novel as a teenager, I would probably have found the author's use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality very vulgar. Unlike the novel's teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield, I was never a rebel without a cause. To the dismay of many of my peers, I was one of those teenagers who loved playing by the rules. However, I would have related to Holden's issues of identity, alienation, and anxiety to a degree that, like him, I would have labeled some, but not many, of my peers and teachers as "phony".

I enjoyed the novel mainly because I understood Holden's existential dilemma, i.e. childhood's idealism versus adulthood's realism. I remembered this existential dilemma to be acutely painful during the adolescence-adulthood transition years. To my surprise, upon further reflection, I found some of this dilemma to still linger through the adult years. Who has not tried to hold on to one's childhood innocence?

I thought Holden’s narration of his experiences delightfully funny. He was both perceptive and mature at times, and emotional and impatient at other times. Some of the most memorable quotes of the novel include the following:

Holden on his young brother Allie

My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You'd have liked him.
Holden on dancing with smart girls

I’m not kidding, some of these stupid girls can really knock you out on a dance floor. You take really smart girl, and half the time she’s trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else she’s such a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the table and just get drunk with her.
Holden on roommates with suitcases

At first he only used to be kidding when he called my stuff bourgeois, and I didn't give a damn — it was sort of funny, in fact. Then, after a while, you could tell he wasn't kidding any more. The thing is, it's really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs — if yours are really good ones and theirs aren't. You think if they're intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don't give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do.
Holden on people who cry watching sad movies

The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You'd have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn't. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn't take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf. You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they're mean bastards at heart. I'm not kidding.
Holden on good books

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.
Well, I thought talking to J.D. Salinger on the phone would have been a pleasure. I thought Chicago Tribune reviewer Paul Engle put it well when he said that the story was "emotional without being sentimental, dramatic without being melodramatic, and honest without simply being obscene" and that it was “engaging and believable . . . full of right observations and sharp insight, and a wonderful sort of grasp of how a boy can create his own world of fantasy and live forms."

1 comment:

  1. A couple of weeks after I posted this, I was surprised to find out J.D. Salinger passed away.