The Catcher in the Rye : An American Koan Essay

America, it appears, remains in the anxious twilight of the Age of the Unique. Even the most ardent readers– and the most dedicated English teachers– acknowledge that. Offered the sheer reach that visual tech- nologies have accomplished in simply fifty years– film, advertising, televi- sion, computer game, and, supremely, the Web– the act (and art) of reading the printed word has actually been gracelessly shuffled off to the mar- gins. Americans are now pixel-fed and image-fat. Books themselves appear large, impractical, clumsy, ink continued paper quick ending up being like Morse code and cathedral radios, rotary phones and print newspa- pers, quaint antiques of methods we utilize to interact.

And serious litera- ture– those novels that challenge ready, alert readers to communicate with characters and symbols to create compelling themes– has actually been all but relegated to the protective hothouse of the classroom.

Airport ter- minals, beaches, living spaces, bedrooms, park benches– there readers indulge the serious trivia of low-octane mass-market entertainments: complicated whodunits, edgy political thrillers, breezy love, fu- turistic sci-fisagas, multivolumefantasy epicsabout wizardsand drag- ons, gothic vampire tales. Save those irregular titles considered Oprah-worthy, severe fiction never ever gets the lavish hype regularly accordedthemostinconsequentialnewfilmsorrealitytelevisionshows.

Landmark novels for a little while stir heady excitement among a narrow coterie of professional readers and after that immediately, utterly sink into the heavy burial place dust of library shelves. In America, in the twenty-first cen- tury, serious fiction has actually lost its clout, its cultural benefit. When cultural historians pertain to chronicle these end days of the American novel, they will most surely mark July 16, 1951, as the novel’s last hurrah. On that day, Little, Brown, with little fanfare, re- leased J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a slim, unprepossess- ing book, barely two hundred pages, fixated a baffled and de- On pressed sixteen-year-old kid called Holden Caulfield, who, after failing out of prep school (for the third time), delays returning house to his household’s swanky Central Park townhouse to wander the streets of New York City for three days. In the process, he has a hard time to come to terms not only with his scholastic failure but with the death, three years earlier, of his younger brother, Allie, from leukemia. It is not a simple change.

Indeed, by novel’s end, we learn Holden has actually been institu- tionalized at a psychiatric facility near Hollywood, where his older brother works as a screenwriter. On its surface area, the book was yet another coming-of-age narrative in which a sensitive and shocked adolescent need to work out the diffi- cult threshold into the adult years. If the category was conventional, however, the book was anything but. Holden informed his own story. Which voice– at the same time smart-alecky and susceptible, worldly-wise and engag- ingly naive– touched a generation of readers, mostly under twenty-five, in a tectonic way that books today just do not. Holden spoke in the syllable-crisp pitch-perfect immediacy of colloquialisms, the click and rhythm of clichés laced with swear words. Holden sounded real.

And Americanteens, borntoolatetoshareintheeuphoria of The second world war and obliged rather to adapt to the anxieties of the ColdWarandimminentatomicapocalypse, foundinHoldenCaulfielda friend who shared their discontent with authority, their anger over the middle-class status quo, their aggravation with traditional procedures of success, their angst over their own futures. Unlike the courteous and re- strained child-heroes of the serious fiction of an earlier time, Holden showed a hipper perceptiveness– he chain-smoked, he consumed Scotch and soda, he talked back to his teachers, he turned down the expectations of ca- reer aspiration, he decreased to commiteffort to school, he swore with re- markable agility, he mocked Christians, he consumed over sex. Within the totally free energy field of the early 1950s– an edgy kinetics that consisted of the leather jacket-tight jeans motion pictures of James Dean and Marlon Brando, Allen Ginsberg’s tormented “Growl,” Jack Kerouac’s epical peregrinations, Jackson Pollock’s splatter canvasses, John Coltrane’s shattered melodies, Lenny Bruce’s incendiary performance pieces, and, supremely, rock and roll’s raucous rhythms– Holden Caulfield provided a voice to a generation in disobedience.

The Catcher in the Rye quickly becamethe book every twenty-something needed to check out. Regardless of combined evaluations from the establishment press (who just didn’t “get” Holden), the unique dominated best-seller lists and stayed there for more than a year. Undoubtedly, in this twilight of the Age of the Novel, the book has never run out print. Thus– it appears, for the last time– a work of serious fiction simul- taneously realigned the characteristics of American fiction and the dynam- ics of American culture. Holden assisted prompt the more youthful generation in the middle of the narcoleptic calm of Eisenhower’s America to overthrow conven- tions, defy authority, and, while doing so, take care of the suddenly serious company of reevaluating the very property of their own lives and the nature of their own identities.

Not surprisingly, maybe inevitably, The Catcher in the Rye was quickly perceived to be an unsafe work, a work from which kids needed to be secured, 2nd just to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (a work to which it is frequently compared) as the most regularly prohibited book in the American liter- ary canon. Since 1951, Holden has been blamed for practically every ex- pression of adolescent rebellion. Swearing, using leisure pharmaceuticals, leaving of school, premarital sex, underage drinking– they are all cool due to the fact that of Holden.

Holden has been read into the DNA for every upset white male rock music icon from Jerry Lee Lewis to Eminem, Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain. Holden’s strident antiauthoritarianism and his uncompromising sense of sincerity have actually been seen at the heart of the civil disobedience of the social and politi- cal upheavals in the 1960s. However much more problematically, moms and dads and teachers, child psychologists, and guidance counselors have long blamed Holden, offered his fascination with death (his own and others), for the gothic perceptiveness amongst teenagers and the dark appeal of sui- cide.

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