The Catcher in the Rye: You Better Pay Attention

#2 The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Published:
1951
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:
Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors mostly due to language and content.  Recently, it was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in  Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”
My Rating: 4-time prep school dropout

Almost everyone has read this book.  And if not, they know who Holden Caulfield is at least.  I was first introduced to Holden’s outlook on life when I was in 8th grade.  I was thirteen, and stuck at a school where I didn’t get along with any of the girls, and was picked on by a lot of the boys.  This was the age where I thought I would piss off my Catholic school teachers by painting my nails black, experimenting with black eyeliner, getting my cartilage pierced, and listening to Blink 182 and Good Charlotte.  But I also played soccer full-time and basketball during the winter.  So I was a punk-jock girl?  Yeah, I was that girl in middle school.

Anyway, The Catcher in the Rye was a big deal for me.  I — as well as every other “misunderstood” teenager — felt this connection with Holden.  And the fact that he just swore the whole goddam time was amazing.  I couldn’t believe we were being allowed to read it in school.  I devoured it in days, as if our school would suddenly notice what we were reading and take it away.  I also discovered something about myself: I wanted to be a writer.  J.D. Salinger made it seem so easy to do.  Holden’s tone was effortless and personal.  He sounded like a friend.  Like someone who got what I was going through.  The Catcher in the Rye is, and always will be, a very special book for me.

After reading it a few more times since then, I noticed certain little tidbits I had missed before.  Maybe I was too young, or unobservant.  But you have to understand that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t just a book about a whiny sixteen-year-old prep school kid.

1. Holden’s Hat — The red hunting hat is a staple for any Holden fan.  And I can go into the symbolism of it, talking about it being his individuality and inability to connect to his peers, and when Phoebe puts in on his head at the end she is accepting him, but that’s boring and you should know all that already.  But what many people either don’t realize, or ignore is that he liked wearing it backwards (And like, Holden wants to “catch” any kid that gets too close to the adulthood-cliff and a catcher in baseball wears his cap backwards and Allie had a baseball glove with poetry in it and just, BASEBALL!).

The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back — very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way. 

It was like a goddam light bulb went off in my head when I figured this out.  I don’t know why I was so proud of myself for this discovery, but I was, so deal with it.

2. Comin’ Thro’ the Rye — Not many people actually look up the the Robert Burns poem/song Holden mishears a little boy singing.  I find this to be a bit odd, considering it’s what essentially gives the book its title.  I’ll be honest, when I first read it, I didn’t think much of it.  And the second and third time I did, I thought, Wow, I really need to look up the original poem and then probably forgot about it later.

“Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” is a common 18th century Scottish children’s song, but the poem is actually quite sexual.  Which further intensifies Holden’s desire to help children keep their innocence.  The fact that Holden heard a little kid singing this explicit song is just so incredible.  The whole issue Holden has in The Catcher in the Rye is his desire to keep childhood innocence intact.  Many of the issues he faces are with him growing up and moving towards adulthood, or how children are sometimes forced to leave their innocence behind.  I like to see him as a more modern-day Peter Pan with a goddam language problem.  Below, are two versions of Burns’ poem.  The first is more playful, with a whimsical sound.  The second hones in on the sexual content of the work.

 

3. Holden’s Health — If you actually pay attention to Holden’s thoughts and behavior, you would realize that he isn’t just an angsty teenager.  He’s constantly feeling hopeless, and describes himself feeling lousy.  Sometimes he would openly start crying, especially at very emotionally low moments.  He can never focus on what he is saying, and repeats some stories or jumps from one subject to the next with no reason.  He is irritable and intolerant towards others — “Sleep tight, ya morons!” — and has no drive to do anything.

Holden is really suffering from some deep-seeded depression.  And it’s quite easy to see where it stems from: his ten-year-old brother, Allie, dying of leukemia.  Although it was three years from the book’s timeline, it’s obviously affecting Holden.  He talks to his brother by either having old conversations with him that he wishes he could have changed, or asking Allie to make sure he doesn’t disappear.  But what I completely missed was that at the end of the book, Holden was in a psych ward for a mental breakdown.  I was so oblivious the first time I read it.  I mean, come on.  It’s mentioned on the first page of the book:

I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.  I’ll just tell you about the madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.

The main thing I love about The Catcher in the Rye is what Holden says about constantly going to the museum.  Nothing inside it ever changes, but you do.  That’s how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye.  The words never change.  They tell the same story.  But I am a little bit older, a little bit more experienced, a little bit changed.  The meaning evolves with me.  When I first read it, I saw it as a, “Yeah, tell everyone to fuck off!” kind of read.  But then, the older I became, the more I saw Holden’s cracks.  His issues.  His insecurities.  And that’s what makes The Catcher in the Rye an amazing book.

Then the carousel started, and I watched her go round and round…All the kids tried to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.

Want to read along with me?
Check out the Banned Books Challenge page to see my progress!

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