Rereading *Catcher in the Rye*

by on July 3, 2014 at 2:14 am in Books, Education, History | Permalink

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

2. It really does have passages like: “”Most guys at Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse with girls all the time — like Ackley, for instance — but old Stradlater really did it.  I was personally acquainted with at least two girls he gave the time to.  That’s the truth.”  And the “crumby,” squirting water passage on p.70 sounds really bad but in fact ties into what the novel is really about, which I say is impotence and also post-traumatic stress disorder.  Read p.156 with this in mind.

2. Here is the original Robert Burns poem connected to the book’s title, mostly about sex, unlike its use in the novel, which I take to mean saving young men from the grim reaper (p.191) in a manner reminiscent of a Winslow Homer painting.  So the book is saying America is not yet ready to fuck, not really, not in 1951, Fed-Treasury Accord or not.  And in the final section of the book “fuck you” is the phrase which Holden is determined to wipe out.

3. Salinger took part in the D-Day invasion with part of the manuscript in his backpack.  Salinger also fought in some of the toughest battles of WWII and later in his life sought extreme withdrawal.  Here is more about Salinger at war.  It all supports the notion of WWII as the major event in his life and one which he never got over.  It is no accident that the deceased younger brother is named Allie.

4. Back then, they still called it Atlantic Monthly.  pp.134-135 reflect the earlier fascination with dioramas in museums.

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

6. Here is a recent re-read of the book which picks up on a lot of its funny slang.  Here is a recent polemic against the book.

7. The Amazon site for the book is here.  Here is the Wikipedia page, the book still sells about 250,000 copies a year.  Steven Spielberg once bid for the movie rights.

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

Next up: John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. and maybe also Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.

affenkopf July 3, 2014 at 2:22 am

Salinger also fought in some of the toughest battles of WWII

He fought on the Western Front so I very much doubt that.

Marian Kechlibar July 3, 2014 at 5:05 am

Ranking the battles according to “toughness”, especially when done by keyboard warriors of 2014, seems rather frivolous to me.

Pretty much every pitched battle is tough.

Ed July 3, 2014 at 9:18 am

Germans who were sent from the Eastern Front to fight on the Western Front in 1944 tended to think the Western Front was tougher. Of course they had to face American and British air power there.

However, Beevor makes clear in his recent book that the Western Front battles were as intense as anything on the Eastern Front. The overall body count was lower because it was one year of fighting instead of four. And you have to factor in the peculiar approach of the Russian leadership on taking losses. But by most metrics individual battles were as intense as Eastern Front battles, or the World War I battles fought in the same area.

Brian Donohue July 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm

That wasn’t my impression from watching Hogan’s Heros AT ALL.

Art Deco July 4, 2014 at 9:02 am

Jolly joker. You vill be shot and sent to ze Russian front.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 2:30 am

From Wikipedia:

“He was hospitalized for a few weeks for combat stress reaction after Germany was defeated,[36][37] and he later told his daughter: “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live.”[33]“

andrew' July 3, 2014 at 4:26 am

A survival struggle probably changes the literal structure of your brain, possibly permanently, making referring to it with phrases like “getting over it” devoid of meaning. And it also doesn’t mean that those of us who have not had such a struggle should disregard the message of someone who can’t get over it.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

Dunno. Had two combat veterans in my circle of acquaintances. One led a very agreeable life – fifty-odd years of marriage, four kids, handsome home. He was a good-natured soul and any problems he had were very esoteric; he fought at Normandy. The other had his problems, but all relating to the erratic behavior of the women he married. He’d fought in the Battle of Leyte and other campaigns in the Pacific theatre and never manifested any scar tissue from that.

andrew' July 3, 2014 at 7:53 am

Okay.

Z July 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

On the other hand, I’ve known men who were sent careening into despair after having experience a mild fright. An old friend was the victim of an armed robbery. The risk from the robbers was tiny, but it haunted him for years. I think it significantly altered the trajectory of his life.

Just Another MR Commentor July 4, 2014 at 8:01 am

You sure have a lot of friends, how come I never seem to meet any of them?

Jake July 3, 2014 at 10:27 am

Yeah, that’s the funny thing about people in both mind and body – there’s very little that you can guarantee will be safe, while at the same time there’s very little you can guarantee will destroy somebody. People get shot and walk away fine, people trip over their sneakers and die.

Paul Sas July 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Is no one else even aware that Salinger was ‘among the first soldiers to enter the newly-liberated concentration camp at Dachau, Germany, witnessing firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust’?

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 2:35 am

One thing that struck me when first reading it in 1973-74 was that all the young people in 1951 wanted to be older, which seemed very different. In the early 1970s, in the shadow of the 1960s, in contrast, the culture (especially marketers) constantly said that to be young was the best thing in the world. Nobody in history has ever been generationally catered to than Baby Boomers like myself.

Peter Akuleyev July 3, 2014 at 4:59 am

I have been reading Stefan Zweig, and he describes pre-war Vienna as also being a world where the young were disregarded – men valued dignity, and men in their twenties would try to look older by growing facial hair, wearing glasses they didn’t actually need, gaining weight, being careful never to run going upstairs, etc. Interestingly he seems to view his own era – the 1930s/40s as a world where youth had conquered. And it is true that Fascism, National Socialism and Communism were all very much youth movements. Maybe the US was just a few decades behind the trend.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 6:36 am

May 1940 was seen by the losing French (e.g., historian and staff officer Marc Bloch) as a triumph of German youth over French sedentarism, the Parisian obsession with a placid digestion after a meal. The French became much more interested in sports, hiking, and other vigorous, youthful activities during the German occupation.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 6:40 am

Matthew Weiner is very much influenced by “Catcher in the Rye,” so the first season of “Mad Men” is a conscious throwback to the same mid-Century Manhattan where it’s a blast to be a grown-up, in contrast to today in which people of the same class are exhausted by Tiger Parenting the next generation to be ready to compete for the good jobs. I haven’t watched much of the show since then, but I presume the unfolding of the rest of the 1960s is presented as the triumph of the younger generation over the mature tastes of the old.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 7:05 am

You can also see these changes in fashion from age to youth and back in past eras: for example, the Enlightenment admired the tempered passions of age, so men wore powdered wigs. The Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars brought a need for the energy of youth, so the young became fashionable in the subsequent Romantic Age.

Axa July 3, 2014 at 5:58 am

That’s a really interesting observation. Young people tried to look 40-50. Nowadays 40s try to look like 20, what happened?

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 6:32 am

You can see the same thing in 1930s movies: leading men like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy tended to look their ages. Today only Clooney looks like a 1930s star.

Perhaps even more tellingly, extras chosen to represent the man-in-the-street tended to look fiftyish.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 7:00 am

Perhaps one reason why leading men look so boyish today (Cruise, Pitt, Depp, DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt, etc.) is because when they started out they tended to be the product of a system that selects for young males who can play juveniles younger than they actually are. DiCaprio, for example, looked about 13 when he was 18, so he was an excellent choice to play 13-year-olds, because real 13-year-olds aren’t mature enough to handle important movie roles. So he got a lot of work when young and built upon that experience to become a very strong leading man, even if he’s still kind of odd looking.

In contrast, George Clooney always looked like a mature dominant male, but it took him awhile for his acting chops to catch up with looks.

In contrast, after sound was introduced in 1927, the movies needed a bunch of new stars right away, so they tried out all sorts of new people and some Clark Gable-types walked into leading man roles without having to come up through the ranks playing juvenile roles the way, say, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in our day has done.

As the system stabilized, it started to pick out young men who could play juveniles younger than themselves: perhaps the first famous one was the late Mickey Rooney, who became a massive star by 1940 playing boys, but then he had a hard time transitioning to leading man status.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 7:17 am

perhaps the first famous one was the late Mickey Rooney, who became a massive star by 1940 playing boys, but then he had a hard time transitioning to leading man status

Rooney’s first film role was in 1926, when he was about 5 years old. He played Andy Hardy between the ages of 16 and 26, with an appendix which appeared in 1958; the character was presented as first a high school student and then as a college student and finally as a returning veteran in college. In the last film, he was a bourgeois with a wife and children. I do not think you could say his career was built on playing characters much younger than the actor.

Z July 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

Mark Steyn writes about this quite a bit. IIRC, he made the observation about the reboot of the Star Trek franchise. The new version features actors who look like adolescent boys. The original had characters in their middle years.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 11:07 am

Wonder what he means by ‘middle years’. James Doohan and deForrest Kelly were middle aged in 1966. Most of the rest of the actors were still in their young adult years, albeit barely. George Takei was not yet 30.

Z July 3, 2014 at 11:34 am

@Art Deco: Kirk looked mid-30′s and he was about that age when he played the role. That would have been the start of middle age in 1966. At least it was plausible that a man in his 30′s could be in charge of something important. That said, in the 40′s the role would have been cast older so we have been seeing younger and younger leads each decade. Twenty years from now, the Star Trek reboot will have toddlers playing the parts.

Zach July 3, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Mid 30s is young, but not utterly so for a captain. Recall that Nelson was made a post captain at the age of 21. At age 39, he commanded the 74 gun Captain at the Battle of St. Vincent with great distinction.

Of course, Nelson’s life story would be rejected for implausibility if it were fictional.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 6:07 pm

I think my uncle was 34 or thereabouts when he was promoted to Captain. Didn’t make it to the flag ranks.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 11:22 am

We just watched “Marty”, wonder how that would fit in!

Rahul July 3, 2014 at 7:36 am

Is it just that society, in general, decided that age & experience were overrated?

Z July 3, 2014 at 9:54 am

More like the West has no way of dealing with death. Better to pretend to be forever young than face the reality of the human condition.

Rahul July 3, 2014 at 10:36 am

But we are comparing the West against the West. Just two eras. Unless the West lost its ability to deal with death somewhere between 1930 and today.

Z July 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

I’d say it has been a gradual process. As Christianity has receded, something else has tried to fill that role. Part of that something else is a youth culture that extends into dotage. Again, we see that Huxley was right.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

YOLO, so apparently you need to make that life as short and vapid as possible.

M July 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

The modern far East, Africa and South Asia all seem to like kawaii and youth at least as much.

So much for Spenglerian Faustian drives.

prior_approval July 3, 2014 at 3:02 am

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

Using fiction as history? Well, then, you will be amazed at Norman Mailer’s depiction of WWII soldiers using ‘fug’ – ‘The publishers of The Naked and the Dead persuaded Mailer to use the euphemism “fug” in lieu of “fuck” in his novel. Mailer’s version of a subsequent incident follows:

The word has been a source of great embarrassment to me over the years because, you know, Tallulah Bankhead’s press agent, many years ago, got a story in the papers which went…”Oh, hello, you’re Norman Mailer,” said Tallulah Bankhead allegedly, “You’re the young man that doesn’t know how to spell…” You know, the four-letter word was indicated with all sorts of asterisks.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Naked_and_the_Dead

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

Don’t worry, your turn at being judged by the future is coming too.

andrew' July 3, 2014 at 4:02 am

Fug seems corny. Does it not?

Let’s as Barkley Rosser. Barkley. Does fug seem corny to you?

prior_approval July 3, 2014 at 9:33 am

In comparison to ‘frickin’? No, not really.

Tom July 3, 2014 at 5:23 am

It would be fantastic to read the future judgments of our sublimely stupid times.

prior_approval July 3, 2014 at 9:31 am

‘It would be fantastic to read the future judgments of our sublimely stupid times.’

Actually, why not use a quote from the past? – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’

Or if you prefer your judgment in a foreign language – ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’

anon July 3, 2014 at 6:37 am

The people of the future will find it odd that the middle class youth of today mimicked the language of lower class blacks.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 7:20 am

I’ve never met a bourgeois youth who talked like the slum lumpenproletariat. I’ve met bourgeois post-adolescent women attracted to sketchy slum characters, but these broads spoke ordinary suburban English.

Trimegistus July 3, 2014 at 7:19 am

I grew up in the 1970s-1980s, but I was a late child — my parents were of the WWII generation. Now that I’m an adult and a parent myself, the differences between my attitudes and theirs are sometimes startling. They were genuinely shocked, _in 1988_, that my girlfriend and I were living together. I have never heard either parent, not even my Army veteran father, use a word stronger than “damn.” They were a bit mystified by the actual mechanical aspects of lesbians.

Note that my parents were big-city, non-religious, well-educated and well-traveled. They had a surprising number of gay friends (who they viewed with amused pity). Their attitudes were pretty representative.

Brian Donohue July 3, 2014 at 8:52 am

“Don’t worry, your turn at being judged by the future is coming too.”

Yup. Surprising lack of self-awareness from our estimable host.

William July 3, 2014 at 3:24 am

almost universally misunderstood.

I guess it would be a waste of time to ask you how this book is commonly understood, how that common understanding is wrong, and why anyone should care.

Like everybody else, I enjoyed Catcher as a teen, dislike it as an adult, and it doesn’t particularly change my mind to hear that the book is about impotence, World War II, or America’s “not being ready to fuck” despite having restored the independence of the Federal Reserve (are we *supposed* to know what you are talking about, or is this just pretentious jackassery?)

andrew' July 3, 2014 at 4:08 am

A. It’s a joke

2. I imagine tc can spot popular delusion even easier than I have been shocked to find it recently. Simply ask yourself, why should anyone ever tell you the truth. Even scarier, why would they ever tell themselves the truth? Why would anyone publicize the accurate interpretation of an assigned novel or a supreme court ruling?

derek July 3, 2014 at 10:15 am

Catcher is great! When rereading it as an adult, try not to focus on the shallow indictments of corniness that attracted you as a teenager and instead enjoy the masterfully executed voice of Holden and pay attention to him as a character rather than a font of sophomoric wisdom.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Right. It’s like rereading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” today it shouldn’t be about whether you personally should take a lot of drugs or not, it should be about your appreciating a great American rhetorician.

Stephen July 3, 2014 at 3:56 am

I’m 28 and remember reading ‘The Atlantic Monthly’:

“As the former name suggests, it was a monthly magazine for 144 years until 2001, when it published eleven issues; it published ten issues yearly from 2003 on, dropped “Monthly” from the cover starting with the January/February 2004 issue, and officially changed the name in 2007.”

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 7:24 am

The name has been changed back and forth several times since the magazine’s founding. One name change was in 1932, another in 1981, another in 1993, &c. It was known as The Atlantic from 1981 to 1993.

Ricardo July 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I never realized its name had changed!

Li Zhi July 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Me neither. I guess you aren’t an East Coast poser either. All this talk about cornyness is, I think, early middle-aged response to aging – realization that they don’t understand their kids and that in 50 years it (and they) aren’t going to matter. Oh! people talked differently in the past, oh! people thought ‘differently’ in the past, oh! people behaved differently in the past. No kidding!
Astonishing! Why in the world would evolution, quantum mechanics, relativity, exoplanets, the atom bomb, radio, tv, the internet, the automobile, the airplane, birth control, antibiotics, dna, public sanitation, germ theory, gun powder, the printing press, organized religion, democracy, socialism, nationalism, the spear, the arrow, boats, fire, the wheel,… why in the world would they affect the way people thought, talked or behaved??? I should add surveilance, facebook, twitter and texting I suppose…along with AI.

Turkey Vulture July 3, 2014 at 4:24 am

As far as authors for whom WWII was a major event in their lives goes, I prefer Vonnegut.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 4:36 am

At least one author of a major book inspired by WWII is still alive: Richard Adams’ talking rabbit epic “Watership Down” is based on his paratrooper colleagues’ escape from behind German lines after the failure of Operation Market Garden in 1944.

Wallace Forman July 3, 2014 at 7:19 am

Err.. It’s not based on the Aeneid?

Marie July 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

Yes, and yes, and a whole bunch of other stuff including the Old Testament. The man is a friggen genius. I didn’t know he was still alive.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Yes, he’s 94.

Brian Donohue July 3, 2014 at 8:53 am

Or Mailer. Or Heller.

Eric Falkenstein July 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

I thought it was mainly about a young man’s frustration with the requisite hypocrisy one needs to be an adult. Whining about is was the method of Freudian psychotherapy, the top way to handle personal disappointments. I empathize with the former, but not the latter.

dearieme July 3, 2014 at 7:23 am

When I was about sixteen I thought it pretty bloody funny. (Mind you, Lucky Jim was even funnier.)

The teenage self-absorption rather reminded me of Hamlet’s, though Hamlet was older so that his behaviour was, I take it, a sign of his being bonkers: schizophrenia I assume.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 7:25 am

I take it you’ve no familiarity with schizophrenics.

dearieme July 3, 2014 at 9:25 am

Only two.

TMC July 3, 2014 at 9:59 am

Me and Me?

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 11:02 am

That’s dissociative disorder, not schizophrenia. After Shirley Ardell Mason (“Sybil”) died, there was an article about her case in The New York Review of Books derived from the writings of a psychiatrist who examined her. The gist was that Dr. Cornelia Wilbur had misapprehended her completely, that she did not have multiple personalities, and that Wilbur had turned to Flora Schreiber and trade publications because the professional journals of that era would not publish Wilbur’s submissions on the case. I think there are psychiatrists who take the view that true dissociative disorder is exceedingly rare if it exists at all.

Ricardo July 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Lucky Jim is great!

“Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

Don Kenner July 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Agreed! Lucky Jim is one of the funniest books ever written. I still reread it occasionally and laugh my @$$ off. Waugh’s first book, Decline and Fall is also funny.

The Other Jim July 3, 2014 at 7:34 am

It’s a very, very bad book.

It is famous because boomers thought it was naughty. And that’s it.

I’m actually relieved to hear it was written (more like “vomited up”) by a man with severe, untreated PTSD. Perhaps these incoherent ramblings were therapeutic for him. That does not justify inflicting the resulting literary refuse on untold thousands of schoolchildren, but hey, maybe SOME good came from this thing.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 8:51 am

“Severe, untreated PTSD”? He was a difficult man addled by an attraction to jailbait. He did not have the sense to stick to his own contemporaries or to take proper care of the mother of his children. (He was also mistreated by a succession of the women in his milieu).

Anecdotal July 3, 2014 at 7:39 am

Excellent piece. Almost universally misunderstood indeed. The film “Salinger” (2013) is well worth seeing. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596753/

B cole July 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

The 1951 Fed-Treasury Accord. That the Reaganauts wanted to rescind (Volcker was too tight)?
What?

charlie July 3, 2014 at 9:10 am

Someone should have told Roth that the Great American Novel is actually about NOT having sex.

What was that book about lost silent movies and tantric sex? Maybe that qualifies.

Ed July 3, 2014 at 9:28 am

I read the Catcher in the Rye as a teenager and I hated it them. But I like some of the limited amounts of Salinger’s other work that was published. Maybe I should reread Catcher in the Rye, which at least has the advantage of being short.

But my impression was the same as the debunking review Tyler linked to. The main character complains alot but doesn’t do anything remarkable or interesting. I didn’t get it.

Reading assignments in American schools tend to be unimaginative. We have a class of moody teenagers, so we will assign a book about a moody teenager. Never mind that the book is not that interesting, and set in a mileu no modern American teenager will be able to identify with.

A Definite Beta Guy July 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

This book was was assigned to my English class in fall of 2002 and seemed to like it. What other books would you recommend? Out of recent young adult literature, only Ender’s Game and the Divergent Series strike me as having any merit whatsoever.

derek July 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

Oh my goodness, Divergent is not a good YA series. It shows some potential of being a poor man’s Hunger Games in the first book, but it really stumbles in the second book. The third book is outright bad. If you like YA dystopia, go for Lois Lowry’s The Giver quartet, and if you like YA sci-fi/fantasy, LeGuin’s Earthsea books are peak fantasy.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

Lowry is pretty hard to compete with.

Li Zhi July 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Wizard of Earthsea was good – the others sucked big time.
recent?!?…Ender’s Game was written in 1985.
forget sci-fi, that’s gone into hibernation. How about His Dark Materials (Pullman, 1995-2000). Although “young adult” is wrong…
I wonder why we don’t call the phase “adolescent” ? early, mid, but only “late” adolescent would qualify as “young adult” imho. Ender’s game is not “late adolescent” imho. Divergent? If a book doesn’t have sex, threats of violence, force, risk,etc. , authority, and economic issues (choices) then it isn’t any type of “adult” imho.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 10:22 am

In our fancy home school we did “Paul’s Case” as our teenage angst story. Only for the older kid, pretty dark.

http://www.shsu.edu/~eng_wpf/authors/Cather/Pauls-Case.htm

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 10:55 am

Ray Bradbury and C.S. Lewis. Anthologies of short fiction e.g. O. Henry. Avoid anything recent. Have a look at Paul Zindel’s work from the early 1970s and see if it works and then look earlier.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

I eagerly read Bradbury to my kids but I hadn’t remembered how adult some of the themes were, so reserved him for the older kid. Such good stuff. They really liked short stories of Arthur C. Clarke, my 7 year old even liked them.

I think teens would like Bartleby, it’s nice and short. Some of the standards I’ll never understand, Scarlet Letter is so bad and a misery to read.

Thelonious_Nick July 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

What’s recent and good and suitable for literate teen-agers? For a junior or senior in HS, I’d say The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’ll never be assigned in any classroom due to the profanity but it’s awfully good. Anything by John Green, haven’t read The Fault In Our Stars but Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Catherines are wonderful.

Teen-agers will gripe over the language in Shakespeare but once they get over it the plays are gripping. Othello is underassigned, despite being the closest Shakespeare play to a thriller.

Catcher and the Scarlet Letter are indeed awful for teen-agers, or anybody.

Shane M July 4, 2014 at 3:07 am

“The main character complains alot but doesn’t do anything remarkable or interesting. I didn’t get it.”

Ha! That was my reaction also. (Read it as an adult, not when in school). I thought Holden was potentially suicidal.

buddyglass July 3, 2014 at 9:39 am

I haven’t read Catcher since high school, but I recall it being my least favorite of Salinger’s books. I very much liked the other ones. Nine Stories, “Seymour, an Introduction” and Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenters.

Brian Donohue July 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

Mother Simpson: I saw all your awards, Lisa. They’re mighty impressive.

Lisa: Aw, I just keep them out to bug Bart, heh.

Mother Simpson: Don’t be bashful. When I was your age, kids made fun of me because I read at the 9th grade level.

Lisa: Me too!

Homer: [walks on his hands] Hey, Mom! Look at me! Look at what I can do!

Mother Simpson: I see you, Homer. That’s very nice. [to Lisa] Although I hardly consider “A Separate Peace” the ninth-grade level.

Lisa: Shyeah, more like preschool.

Mother Simpson: I hate John Knowles.

Lisa: Me too. [they both laugh, then sigh]

Just Another MR Commentor July 4, 2014 at 8:56 am

Who refers to Marg Simpson as Mother Simpson? What is wrong with you?

William July 6, 2014 at 8:46 am

Not Marge. Homer’s mother. Apology vicariously accepted in advance.

Careless July 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Although I believe she’s “grandma Simpson”

Education Realist July 3, 2014 at 10:17 am

I read the book quite young–10 or 12–on my own and thought it a horrible piece of dreck. Still do. When I learned what was driving Salinger, the book made more sense, but as others have noted, that’s no excuse to inflict it on kids.

I teach A Separate Peace in an English enrichment class most years. I find it less than compelling, but in that book the driving emotion is pretty clear, and so I cover the book from that perspective, rather than forcing the kids to wonder if they’re just really gay.

BTW, I am often shocked at teachers who read Robert Frost to elementary school kids because “they’re such pretty poems. Especially ‘Stopping by Woods’”.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

They are pretty poems.

Elementary school kids can definitely get “Stopping by Wood”. Especially the ones who have.

Of course, you’ll read it a touch differently every time you read it.

Art Deco July 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

I was read that poem in elementary school. Still remember it. Cannot recall anything about the real estate ads I read last week-end, but I remember “Stopping by Woods”.

Urso July 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

I loved a Separate Peace in HS. It never occurred to me that it was about anything but jealousy. But then it was just last year that I first read (here?) that the Great Gatsby could be read with Nick as closeted gay in love w/Gatsby. I reread it with that in mind and it actually makes a lot of sense.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 11:30 am

My husband, of course, recommends South Park’s version.

Mario July 3, 2014 at 11:53 am

In regard to point 3, for me, that too was the biggest difference in re-reading Catcher in the Rye as an adult when compared to reading it originally in middle school. To see all of the story as being told through the lens of someone who has seen war and seen that much of war (and having been through war myself) really changes how I look at a lot of the events and the protagonist’s interpretations of them.

Jeff Rensch July 3, 2014 at 11:59 am

you don’t mention the strange stereotypical “homophobic” scene, really dates the novel. Love his short stories, hate this book

Brian Donohue July 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Interesting. On a related note, I reread Shirer’s ‘Rise and Fall’ last year. Writing from a rock solid liberal perspective in 1959, Shirer could sneer at Nazi ‘homosexual perverts’.

Today, of course, Shirer’s attitude, and the 1959 liberal establishment in general, are worse than Hitler.

Psmith_in_the_city July 3, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Might want to consider putting Frank Portman’s King Dork on the reading list.

anon/portly July 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm

“…overall I thought it was pretty damn good and almost universally misunderstood.”

I agree with the comment of “William” above, it would be nice to get *some* insight as to why Tyler arrives at this conclusion. But oh well….

A friend of mine in his travels has met a lot of people who are keenly interested in novels and literature, and his experience has been that for the ones from other countries, or from the Western US, or the Southern US, or the Midwest, the interest in and appreciation for TCITR is zero. But for the ones from the Northeastern US, not so. I think Salinger is best understood as a regional phenomenon of a sort.

Other Marie July 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm

John Green does a pretty good run through of Catcher in the Rye (part 1 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqfThmVIIAc) which actually kind of made me appreciate it for the first time. We read it in my high school English class (’97) and the class was pretty evenly divided between people who liked it and people who though Holden was a whiny brat (I found him incredibly annoying).

I did enjoy Nine Stories and Raise High the Roof beams, Carpenter. Holden is I think meant to be a dislike-able character though. Which then leads to whether or not you’re a reader who can like a book with a dislike-able main character.

Marie July 3, 2014 at 2:50 pm

I’ve been afraid you were Marie first here and I inadvertently stole it, but now I see I’m leagues older than you so I’m going to figure it was mine first elsewhere. ;)

My husband just made me read Fight Club (by insisting I didn’t have to read it if I didn’t want to) and I’m inclined to think you can’t like a book if you hate the main character if the main character is a proxy for the author. If it’s a particular kind of dislike. I can figure Hemingway was probably a jerk, but I don’t dislike him like I dislike, say, Elizabeth Bennet. I have a friend who hates Brideshead Revisited because she read it during a time when she was working with some folks in some pretty dire real world situations imposed on them. So she really couldn’t get over their seemingly contrived, spoiled whiner problems. I think Waugh was pretty much in the same state as his characters.

Other Marie July 10, 2014 at 10:11 am

Ages ago (~5ish years) I think I was the only Marie who commented here, but I rarely go into the comments now. Have at the name. I will say that I have a friend who also reads this blog who was very confused and commented to his wife “there’s someone commenting with the name Marie, but I don’t think she’s Marie because her comments don’t seem like something Marie would say and Marie’s comments used to sound exactly like Marie talking.”

Yes, that statement is generally incomprehensible.

HL July 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm

While you’re reading classics of youth literature, try some of the modern required reading and compare them.

Malthusian Delight July 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

I reread A Separate Peace at least once a year. I love that book.

Zach July 3, 2014 at 4:27 pm

The polemic is so class-conscious, it’s like she can’t even read the text in front of her:

Holden Caulfield, a teenager with a life of privilege and advantages, was annoying and whiny. The theme of the book is one of alienated youth seeking an identity in a world filled with “morons” and “phonies.”

Holden Caulfield is having a nervous breakdown. He can’t find any motivation or pleasure in his life, and he’s terrified of sex and adulthood. Why would it matter how much money his unseen parents have?

Zach July 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Thinking about it some more, I think the basic problem that some people have with the book is that they think they’re supposed to see Holden as some sort of a role model or point of view character. But Holden isn’t a sympathetic character, he’s a pathetic character — literally, in the sense of evoking pathos.

Think about the very first scene of the book. Holden loses the fencing team’s equipment on the subway. He is defenseless. He says he wants to be a Catcher in the Rye because he wants to be caught — and the whole weekend is about nobody being there to catch him.

Cliff July 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

Yeah, I mean isn’t that part of the point that his family is rich and sends him to all these expensive private schools that he doesn’t want to be at, and otherwise are hardly in his life at all? Do we really just not care about a person’s well-being if their parents are in the 1% or whatever?

dirk July 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

It shocks me that Tyler has no clue how to read a work of literature. A good work of literature has no meta-text. This work isn’t “about” impotence or post-traumatic stress disorder or any such nonsense. Tyler’s reading is half-Straussian, half- Freudian and total bunk. Yes, bunk.

Zach July 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

It might not be “about” impotence or PTSD, but as I say above, it is not hard to identify that Holden is going through a spiritual crisis not unsimilar to PTSD. He is quite clearly impotent in the book, if not outright afraid of sex.

Regarding Freudianism, the book was issued in 1951 by an author obsessed with psychoanalysis. I don’t think it’s crawling out on a limb to say that there might be some Freudian themes.

dirk July 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm

A teenager afraid of sex is a world away from impotence. I once hired a hooker in Calgary and then decided not to fuck her because I was kind of afraid, because she was a hooker. But I’m not impotent.

Tyler’s review works perfectly for The Sun Also Rises not Catcher in the Rye.

It’s crawling out on a limb to suggest there were Freudian themes because Salinger cared too much about literature to hide the meaning of his work inside Freudian themes. For Christ sake, he wrote about sex directly in the work. if he’s already writing about fucking there’s not much room left for hidden sexual messages.

dirk July 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Many teenagers go through spiritual crises not unsimilar to PTSD. Perhaps Salinger used his PTSD to gain insight into the mind of a depressed and angsty teenager. Pretty sure the entire text supports that reading. Some trivia about the author is more likely to mislead one about their works than it is to give one extra insight.

Art Deco July 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

Many teenagers go through spiritual crises not unsimilar to PTSD.

Rubbsih.

dirk July 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Salinger’s stories about post-traumatic stress disorder were For Esme, with Love and Squalor and It’s a Good Day for Bananafish. Catcher in the Rye, on the other hand, is about being an adolescent in 1951. That Salinger already had part of the manuscript in his pack-back on D-Day is good evidence that this work is not about the effects of D-Day. Not saying it didn’t affect the writing, but it didn’t affect what this novel is about.

Stop reading like Sherlock Holmes. You are missing the actual novel in its entirety.

dirk July 3, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Salinger refutes your analysis in his own words in Seymore: An Introduction. I’m paraphrasing from memory but he says something like *People have even told me to my face that the novel I wrote is about Seymore. It isn’t.*. Seymore, of course, is a WW2 vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who kills himself. You don’t have to do any Straussian analysis or biographical research on the author to know this. The narrator tells you in plain English.

Also, Sergeant X in Esme is obviously suffering PTSD and you know this because… the text tells you this.

dirk July 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

What I find interesting is the mood created by not having any information about Holden’s parents. It’s the mood of the cartoon Peanuts and also the mood in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, which has many obvious nods to Catcher. (And the family in The Royal Tenenbaums is obviously the Glass Family.)

Steve Sailer July 3, 2014 at 10:41 pm

I only found out yesterday that Salinger’s gentile mother passed for Jewish.

Art Deco July 4, 2014 at 8:56 am

She wanted her husband’s grandmother off her back.

Don Kenner July 4, 2014 at 12:26 am

I always preferred THE BELL JAR to CATCHER IN THE RYE (the two are often compared). Not sure why, as I read them both two long ago. I decided recently to reread both books and see if this middle-aged man has a different opinion. I’m a huge Plath fan, so I’ll probably still like Bell Jar better, but I’m looking forward to rereading Catcher.

The woman you link to who “hated” Catcher is pretty silly. She approvingly quotes some idiot student of hers:”‘I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.’” I hear that.”

Not just rich, but also white. Two strikes and you’re out. I guess Holden should check his privilege.

Damian July 4, 2014 at 1:40 am

I found a separate peace quite boring in high school. I remember the bouncing on tree limbs passage, and Phineas falling on hard steps, so I guess the writing must have been good for those two to stick in my mind 18 years later. But the books seemed to drag on and was so indirect in getting its point across that I really disliked the novel.

Dennis Van Essendelft July 4, 2014 at 1:52 am

More interested in etymology than some of yr other mystifying interps of CinR. My father, born in 1910, regularly used this term to describe a useless, feckless, amoral person. That the prostitute would use this to condemn her unappreciative John is not surprising, but quite unrelated to her profession.

mkt July 4, 2014 at 7:33 am

The students in the elementary school that I attended (in the Pacific NW, in the 1960s) also would call each other crumb-bums, with that same meaning. Except that it was at least as likely to be used ironically or in a non-serious way, rather than as a direct insult. So it was similar to how someone might call his friend an S.O.B. Also one student’s name was Schrumm, so she of course would always be called Scrumm-bum.

But these same kids pretty much stopped using the term in middle school; it may’ve been viewed as a childish word to use.

jseliger July 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm

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

It would be interesting to see a compare/contrast with someone like Edward St. Aubyn (Some Hope or Bad News), Bret Easton Ellis, or Jung.

There is still some corniness in a novel like Francine Prose’s Touch; perhaps what is now commonly called YA is the last bastion of corniness?

Cliff July 7, 2014 at 10:26 am

Too bad your page numbers are based on your particular edition

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