About Teenagers’ Mind in the Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye should be in Penn Manor’s Literature curriculum because of his ability to present an accurate and descriptive representation of a teenagers’ mind; his use of locations as symbols that represent a phony and cruel world; and the depiction of his own life experiences and the conflicts he encountered during his school life.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, represents an accurate and descriptive representation of a teenagers’ mind because of his ability to make the conflicts Holden faces relatable. Holden Caulfield is a 16-year-old boy who finds the world full of phonies and does not exactly want to grow up. He faces relationship issues, family problems, and mental conflicts. Samantha Schmidt, an English teacher, comments on The Catcher in the Rye and how the book is relatable by saying, Even if our own situations are not as severe as Holden’s, we still go through pressures that are put on us as we enter the adult world (Munasinghe). Caulfield wants to make a connection with people, but for him to do so means to make an emotional investment that will most likely end up depressing him. He is known in the book for having a depressing mental state. Even though Salinger writes Holden Caulfield as a person who does not care about a situation that another person would deem appalling, there are a few instances where Caulfield shows emotion towards others. When Holden finds out he is being expelled from Pencey Prep:
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What I was really hanging out around for, I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by(sic) or a bad good-by(sic), but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse. (Salinger 7)
Like many teenagers, Holden reached point in his life where he is expected to follow many more rules and essentially how to be a proper and responsible adult’ guidelines. He struggles to engage in social interactions, convinces himself the world is uninteresting, and does not develop his growth in the relationships around him.
The Catcher in the Rye uses various locations and objects as symbols throughout the novel. The schools Holden Caulfield has gone to, Pencey Prep and Elkton Hills, represent the phony, cruel world of those who run them. Pencey Prep school’s motto is equally repulsive to Holden: Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.” Holden says he can think of perhaps two boys who fit that description. For Holden, the two schools are emblematic of a corrupt system designed by privileged adults and catering to boys who want to join their ranks. Another example of a symbolic location is Radio City Music Hall. The Christmas show, the Rockettes, and the sentimental war movie, symbolizes much of what Holden despises about inauthentic art that satisfies the audience. The movie that is shown is, to Holden, significantly worse. It manipulates the audience into glorifying war and the military, which he despises. Caulfield comments on how phony the people there can be and goes into detail:
They were so ignorant, and they had those sad, fancy hats on and all. And that business about getting up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall depressed me. If somebody, some girl in an awful-looking hat, for instance, comes all the way to New York from Seattle, Washington, for God’s sake and ends up getting up early in the morning to see the goddam first show at Radio City Music Hall, it makes me so depressed I can’t stand it. I’d’ve bought the whole three of them a hundred drinks if only they hadn’t told me that. (Salinger 98)
Just because those girls were going to Radio City Music Hall he thinks they are phony and ignorant; however, he was just making conversation and buy the girls drinks. An object in the novel that holds a symbolic view, is Allie’s left-handed baseball glove. It’s not a significant symbol in the novel but it represents Holden’s love for his younger brother. When Holden goes into detail about his writing assignment and mentions his younger brother Allie, he says, So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt God, he was a nice kid, though. He used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair (Salinger 49-50). Allie had written poems in green ink on the glove so he had something to read when things got boring on the baseball field. Holden uses any and every chance to talk about Allie.
Even though The Catcher in the Rye has explicit language, sexual content, and suicidal scenes, this novel should still be taught in higher education schools, such as high schools and universities. Stephen Sandford from the Washington Post had even written his point of view on the teaching of the novel in schools. To argue that a book should not be taught because it lacks resonance with a particular set of students on the basis of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic class is close-minded and misguided, explains Sandford. Many teenagers and young adults are already exposed to graphic media. They listen to music with explicit language, watch movies with inappropriate scenes, and are revealed to varieties of content on social media. Another article from the Washington Post that agrees with teaching J.D. Salinger’s most famous book states, How can people protect the words of rap singers but then denounce a writer because his upper middle class stature supposedly contrasts with that of the majority?
Another point worth noting is how J.D. Salinger depicts his own life experiences and the conflicts he encountered during his school life in his novel. J.D. Salinger and Holden Caulfield share the same similarities of insularity, personal history, and of their romantic relationships. Like Holden Caulfield J.D. Salinger was not much of a student and had even flunked out his school, McBurney School. A quote from the novel stating Holden Caulfield was not an excellent student is, Well. . . they’ll be pretty irritated about it. They really will. This is about the fourth school I’ve gone to (Salinger 13). The Catcher in the Rye is so relatable because J.D. Salinger writes his life as Holden Caulfield. Salinger does not come out and say that he is Holden but it is very easy to point out similarities between the two. Another quote stating Holden is failing his classes is, … I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself at all(Salinger 6). Salinger also had conflicts within his love life. Even though they had not lasted long, he had been in relations or married to multiple women. One of J.D. Salinger’s relationships was with Oona O’Neill. They had met at Elizabeth Murray’s, a friends sister’s house. Oona had a mysterious quality to her, says Gloria Murray, Elizabeth’s daughter. She was quiet, but she was stunning in her beauty. You just couldn’t take your eyes off her(Alexander). What is said in this statement can be connected to a quote Holden makes in the book. When He reflects on the adolescent males tendency to overreach:
I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can. (Salinger 95)