Fuck you, I love you, Holden Caulfield
Original review here.
I knew, when I started reading this, that it wouldn’t “go” for me in quite the same way it goes if you read it at the age where you are in the thrall of the socio-economic construct commonly known as “teen”. That said, I wanted to read it before I got even older, and even more accustomed to compromise and mediocrity. I had known, for a while, that I could, should and would read this, it’s just that the urge to read it came to me at this particular age. I am 22 years old. This means that, while being close enough in proximity to remember many of the ideas and sensations that swam around in my head while I was going through my teens, many of them have been lost, more blunted and some remembered with not a little bit of shame.
Loss, dulling, and shame; this is pretty much how I feel about this novel. I was fascinated enough that I finished it in a single sitting, though I would say that this fascination was with the narrative voice, which is pretty damn authentic, as far as authenticity in narrative fiction goes, rather than with any other aspect. I will admit, fully, to having looked at basically no critical or historical literature with regards to this novel, and I was never taught it in a class, but I’m not about to let lack of evidence get in the way of a good opinion. The people I have spoken to about The Catcher in the Rye have mostly either told me that they found reading it a significant personal experience, or that oh-my-god-Holden-is-such-a-whiny-bitch. They, both, are correct. How you react to a work of art is how you react to a work of art, and not everyone has had the education, formal or otherwise, to articulate how they feel about it beyond good/bad or liked/didn’t like. I do think, though, that people who don’t like the novel because they don’t like Holden are missing the point. You aren’t supposed to like him. He’s a snot nosed little fucker. If you identify with him, you were probably a snot nosed little fucker, too. I know I was a snot nosed little fucker.
Holden has problems with people posing, being hypocritical, lying. With people not being real. He is, himself, not real. He admits, straight up, that he lies to people and puts people on for laughs, and he admits to you, the reader, that he is quite deliberately only going to tell you a version of the story, and not the whole one. This, of course, is significant. He is caught in the problem of having ideals that are essentially impossible to realise. He is looking to realise the complete, consistent person. About the only thing Holden is consistent in is his discourse, a la, he is consistently privileged and whiny. Other than that, there is no more consistency or truth in his actions or personality than there are in any other persons, and he spends a good few days butting his head against this problem, obliquely. Yeah, I get why people don’t like him, but people don’t like him for the wrong reasons.
Again, I am not going to let a lack of background research stop me from having an opinion, and there is something that I noticed regarding Holden that I haven’t heard anyone else mention, a detail that, were it more explicit, would certainly change how people react of his character. When Holden decides to spend the night at Mr Antolini’s, he is awoken by the hand of said Mr, patting his head. This may be drunken wistfulness on Antolini’s part, it might be something much more sinister, it’s hard to tell either way. It is evident, though, that Holden views this as a gross violation of his personal space, and I am inclined to agree with him, as innocuous as a pat on the head might first appear. While telling us of his flight, Holden reveals to us that, “When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can’t stand it.” Again, the voice comes through, and it’s easy to discount at face value because of his hyperbolic manner of speech (about twenty times), though, again, we know only what Holden tells us. Maybe he can’t remember, himself. What is evident, regardless of any tone policing we might feel compelled to do, is that this sort of “perverty” thing has happened to him before. It is not quite so easy to discount Holden as a whiny kid who makes his troubles out to be a lot larger than they are in the light of this. It is very possible that he has been molested, sexually or otherwise, repeatedly throughout his life. He needs fucking help, and there’s no one around, really, to give it to him. I can only hope that, wherever it is he finds himself at the end of the novel, it is somewhere that he can get the help that he (I would argue) needs.