After reading the Catcher in the Rye, I grew a new perspective and true appreciation towards writers and novels. This book is written in a language that you're not really used to reading and the whole time you're thinking "What am I reading? Is this even story telling?" And then magic happens. You understand everything at the end and you appreciate the story that has just been read. Writers have this power of storytelling and you just know that books are proof that humans are capable of doing magic.
The most obvious topic of discussion in the coming of age novel is the tension between innocence and experience. Holden has this red hunting hat that he always finds himself wearing because metaphorically it's his protective shield. Why does he need a protective shield? Well for starters he feels incredibly lonely. In chapter 9, it says that he goes to the phone booth to give someone a buzz and who does he call? No one! Because he has no one to talk to. It's like scrolling through the contacts in your phone and then you realize that no one on that list wants to talk to you. On his way to the hotel, the cab driver won't talk to him because Holden is asking weird questions about ducks. Then once he gets to the hotel he calls this girl who is most likely a prostitute and even she won't talk to him! All he is really trying to do in the first 15 chapters is just talk to someone. So no wonder he needs a security blanket. Holden is just trying to protect himself from the pain of the world. He's protecting himself from all the phonies. He just wants to talk to someone but no one cares enough to listen.
There are two Holden's in this novel. There is the Holden who the story is happening to and then there is the Holden who is telling us about it a year later. When you see the story only as the Holden who the story is happening to it's pretty depressing. He walks around and meets people trying to get them to listen to him and they refuse. Towards the end there's an adult who you think would actually listen to him but then gets creepy and wakes Holden up from patting his head and then you start to really lose hope for the kid. I don't know if it's Holden's fault or the fault of the type of people that he is reaching out to. The Holden who this story is happening to is alone and scared of life and no one bothers to listen to him. Everyone in the book, including Holden, is self-involved. There is a lack of empathy in humans in this novel. But when you think about the Holden who is telling the story you begin to see the small light of hope. Because a year later he is telling us this story, the story that he has lived through and the way he tells the story makes us care. Holden Caulfield is a raconteur. Salinger has a talent for non-literal communication. He makes us connect with Holden and now we are able to empathize, now we are able to listen and pay attention to Holden.
Now that I understood the two Holden's there were a some things in the novel that caught my attention and really made me think. A few times in the book, Holden refers to himself as you. For example, in chapter 11 when he is talking about the experience he is having when he is holding hands with Jane instead of saying 'I' he uses "you" and I think that is his way of protecting himself from the pain he is feeling. He says “You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.” Of course he doesn't mean you were happy, you're not the one who was holding hands with Jane. But to put himself back in that experience is too painful, because he is remembering the feelings of intimacy with another person which he no longer has with anyone. It's so painful for him that he can't even use the word "I" to describe himself.
After watching Salinger's documentary, I saw that he put a lot of himself in Holden. Many people said Salinger was reclusive but I don't think he completely was in the total sense of the word. He appeared whenever he felt like it and he did socialize with people, but for the most part he did keep to himself. He had been rejected many times; by The New Yorker, by the love of his life and when he tried to inlist in the military. He eventually got all of those things after many years of trying, but only after he had been rejected many, many times. Salinger hated phoniness. He really did. He believed that society made you a sell out. After his book was published Salinger never went to interviews or talk shows and never made public appearances. He didn't go on book tours and signings. He refrained from all of that. He wanted people to connect truly to his book. Salinger didn't want his personality to become a factor as to how people felt about his writing; he wanted people to know him solely through his work. Salinger believed that novels grew in the dark and that's where Salinger stayed.
Photograph by Veronica