02 Aug 2014

Re-reading “Catcher in the Rye”



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


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.



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.


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