Friday, October 9, 2009


I too, like Salinger, have a tendency to be a bit cynical at times. My mother says it comes from my father's Scottish side.  One argument in that family and they don't speak years!  Maybe I was too hard on "The Catcher In The Rye" by not mentioning other facets of the book that were subtly weaved within the context.  Cara, whose site OOH....BOOKS is definitely an inspiration to all book bloggers, reminded me of this in her comments:
"One interpretation of this book that may be missed is that it is about grief. Did you mention that in your previous post? I can't remember. Anyway, part of why Holden is the way he is is that he recently lost his brother. His parents just shipped him off to boarding school where he's expected to go on like nothing's happened. I never liked A Catcher in the Rye, but this interpretation makes me appreciate it more."

It is true that Holden Caulfield was a boy that was ignored. He brings up his mother's careful selection of ice skates for him, but mentions nothing more except that she has a very nervous nature.  His father's career is mentioned but their relationship is never touched on, which suggests that it wasn't positive or negative, it was nonexistent. Holden focuses on memories of his brother Allie who died from cancer when he was very young.  It is obvious that he misses him terribly but life seems to have gone on for everyone else in the world as if Allie didn't even exist.  Holden is alive but holds the same distinction as his brother Allie, invisible.  He mentions several times that he just wants to "disappear"; he wants to go away and maybe he'll show back up twenty years later just to say "hi"; he will punish his family by really disappearing and then how will they feel? 

He focuses on his relationships with his other siblings as proof that he does exist and he derives a sense of pride from his older brother's and sister's accomplishments.  He doesn't feel he has any  noteworthy talents or accomplishments himself. 
Caulfield is a boy on his own.  How else could he leave school and be running around New York City, staying in hotels, hiring prostitutes, spending copious amounts of money and his parents have no idea of his whereabouts. He states that his parents will get over his dismissal from school in a few days. 

I thought the saddest part was when Holden, toward the end of the book, sneaks back into his house to visit his sister while his parents are gone.  They are obviously very close (she is younger); she is very upset that he has failed out of school again.  He needs someone to care.  After a short visit, he has to find somewhere to go and he doesn't want to be alone.  (One of the major themes of "The Catcher In The Rye" is his never ending quest to find someone to be with, anyone.  It really is quite sad, as he calls people who are mere acquaintances just to have someone, anyone to talk to.)  He calls a former teacher who he feels genuinely cares for him.  Holden describes his former teacher as a man who is quite well off because he married a much older wealthy woman (I knew where Salinger was going with this).  Holden has stayed at his house many times in the past.  His teacher, Mr. Antolini, tells Holden to come right over.  They a have a chit chat about  Holden's wasted potential, as Antolini slurps down a steady stream of burbon.  Holden receives blankets and a sofa to sleep on but is awoken by Mr. Antolini stroking his head.  Of course, Holden is scared to death and asks him what in the hell he thinks he's doing.  Antolini replies, "just admiring".  Of course, this is heart breaking because this is one of the only adults Holden felt cared for him genuinely.  He comments that he knows a perv when he sees one because this has happened to him many times before.  Again, evidence that he has been on his own for along time.  No wonder he is so disenchanted with life.  
 The people who care about him in life are so few.  This is probably why he feels people are so "phony" and they just pretend to care about people when in actuality they only care about themselves.  

A dilemma I'm facing is whether I should read about the author before picking up the book? Admittedly, I do not care for J.D. Salinger, but that doesn't mean this book is without merit.  Salinger controlled his wife, and kept her completely isolated, until the point she almost killed her infant daughter and herself just to escape his domineering often cruel treatment.  His wife Clair commented: 

"She remembered that Salinger would chronically leave Cornish to work on a story "for several weeks only to return with the piece he was supposed to be finishing all undone or destroyed and some new 'ism' we had to follow." Claire believed "it was to cover the fact that Jerry had just destroyed or junked or couldn't face the quality of, or couldn't face publishing, what he had created."

Salinger would change his beliefs from one ideology to another so quickly that his family couldn't keep up with his excessive demands to adapt.  He wouldn't let his wife seek medical treatment for their children because he was on a "Scientology" kick.  This is when his wife finally decided their marriage was over. 
Salinger, in his fifties, wrote to a young old girl who wrote an article for "Seventeen" magazine and told her she could interview him.  Needless to say she abandoned school and all her potential to live with Salinger.  I guess I find this kind of behavior very predatory and selfish and this does seep into my opinion when reading the novel.  
Something to ponder on whether I should forgo reading about the author.  What do you think?  

1 comment:

Cara Powers said...

I think "ick." Salinger was an icky, icky man. Thanks for the info.