COVID-19 has bumped up my status from avid reader to a mega, one-book-after-the-other, reading machine. While most would argue self-isolation creates a deep sense of loneliness, I, on the other hand, have found the best company within my shelves upon shelves of books I’ve bought (mainly thrifted, mind you) and planned to eventually read.
Holden Caulfield, out of all the characters I’ve met in the past few weeks, has by far been the most entertaining. Holden lives in “The Catcher in the Rye,” which was birthed by J.D. Salinger in 1951, and boy, I can’t even imagine the trouble this novel stirred up in mid-20th century America.
Unlike the picture-perfect image adults had and expected of America’s youth, seventeen-year-old Holden has just been kicked out of yet another boarding school. He’s failing the majority of his classes and refuses to apply himself, much to the chagrin of his parents and the teachers he has befriended along the way. Not wanting to face the music once he arrives home, Holden adventures through the bars, parks and movie theatres of his native city of New York while trying to come to terms with his teen angst and emotions.
Man, Holden is not having a good time. It’s abundantly clear that Holden has some intense, psychological trauma, but we aren’t totally clued into what that could be. He does hint at a few things: the pressure put on him by his parents to succeed, his obsession with becoming intimate with the ladies and the “perverty” things that happened to him as a child that Holden just briefly throws out to only never speak of again. And, I thought my dad taking away my phone when I was 15 was bad.
What I absolutely love about this novel is the fact that Salinger didn’t want to hide the mental instability of Holden who is a reflection of most teenagers whose problems most adults don’t realize or choose to ignore. Holden’s parents don’t seem like awful people from the little information we’re given on them, but at some point, when your child has been kicked out of not one, but several schools, there’s probably something going on with him that needs to be addressed. Those teachers he’s befriended offer him lame, generic advice about shaping up and getting his act together instead of actually attempting to talk him through his issues.
And that’s what Holden is searching for in this entire novel: someone to talk to. Someone he can vent to. Someone that understands. But no one wants to listen. He tries Sally, a girl he dates. He tries an old acquaintance of his. He even attempts talking to his much younger sister, but to no avail.
The whole situation, unfortunately, reminds me of my teen years, which is why this novel should be required reading in every single literature class in high school. I think it would be a tremendous reading experience for teens who think there isn’t anyone that gets it, but Holden Caulfield does.
“The Catcher in the Rye” and Holden have certainly earned a spot on my all-time favorites shelf.