Category Archive '“The Catcher in the Rye”'

02 Aug 2014

Re-reading “Catcher in the Rye”

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HoldenCaulfield

Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan have been re-reading Catcher in the Rye (so we don’t have to).

TC:

Back then, if you didn’t use your prostitute and then tried to underpay her, she would call you a “crumb-bum. …

[W]hat the novel is really about… is impotence and also post-traumatic stress disorder. …

There is a corniness to how people thought and spoke back then which the book captures remarkably well. …

I expected not to like the re-read, but overall I thought it was pretty damn good and almost universally misunderstood.

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BC
:

Other than losing his brother Allie, Holden has no external problems. He is a rich kid living in the most amazing city in the world. Rather than appreciating his good fortune or trying to make the most of his bountiful opportunities, Holden seeks out fruitless conflict. If you still doubt that happiness fundamentally reflects personality, not circumstances, CITR can teach you something. …

Although I was a teen-age misanthrope, anti-hero Holden Caulfield is more dysfunctional than I ever was. My dream was for everyone I disliked to leave me alone. Holden, in contrast, habitually seeks out the company of people he dislikes, then quarrels with them when they act as expected. …

Even if Holden’s enduring antipathy for “phonies” were justified, it’s hard to see why the epithet applies to most of its targets….

For Holden, the main symptom of phoniness is that someone appears to like something Holden doesn’t. But he never wonders, “Is it possible that other people sincerely like stuff I don’t?”

If phonies are your biggest problem, your problems are none too serious. …

I doubt Salinger was being Straussian. Like most of CITR’s fans, he thought Holden has important things to teach us. Yet the book’s deepest and most important lesson is that Holden’s thoughts are profoundly shallow and unimportant. The Holdens of the world should stop talking and start listening, for they have little to teach and much to learn.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

22 Jun 2009

Holden Caulfield in Worse Trouble Than Ever

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The Times reports that the Holden Caulfield alienation franchise is currently under attack by brand infringement.

(Last Wednesday,) a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order forbidding publication in the United States of “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” a takeoff on — J. D. Salinger’s lawyers say rip-off of — “The Catcher in the Rye,” written by a young Swedish writer styling himself J. D. California.

Until the judge makes her final ruling, Mr. Salinger’s fans will be spared the prospect of encountering Holden Caulfield, the ultimate alienated teenager, as a lonely old codger who escapes from a retirement home and his beloved younger sister, Phoebe, as a drug addict sinking into dementia.

But, matters are far worse than that: poor Holden’s 1950s vocabulary and teenage preoccupations have grown out-of-date, and nobody even feels sorry for him any more.

Holden may have bigger problems than the insults of irreverent parodists and other “phonies,” as Holden would put it. Even as Mr. Salinger, who is 90 and in ailing health, seeks to keep control of his most famous creation, there are signs that Holden may be losing his grip on the kids.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951, is still a staple of the high school curriculum, beloved by many teachers who read and reread it in their own youth. The trouble is today’s teenagers. Teachers say young readers just don’t like Holden as much as they used to. What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many of them as “weird,” “whiny” and “immature.”

The alienated teenager has lost much of his novelty, said Ariel Levenson, an English teacher at the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Holden’s home turf. She added that even the students who liked the book tend to find the language — “phony,” “her hands were lousy with rocks,” the relentless “goddams” — grating and dated.

“Holden Caulfield is supposed to be this paradigmatic teenager we can all relate to, but we don’t really speak this way or talk about these things,” Ms. Levenson said, summarizing a typical response. At the public charter school where she used to teach, she said, “I had a lot of students comment, ‘I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.’ ”


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