I wasn't exactly sad to hear of JD Salinger's death because if you've had the desire to hang on until the age of 91, you've probably lived a pretty good and fulfilling life. But I felt an immediate sense of apprehension because I love Salinger and I've always felt protective of him. His reclusiveness never bothered me, having the occasional desire myself, and I always felt resentful on his behalf whenever anyone talked of it disparagingly.
Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books. I read it when I was one year older than Holden and out on my own for the first time. But I can't say I related to Holden exactly. I didn't have anywhere near enough sense of self to judge anyone else a "phony." But it also never occurred to me that exposing the phonies was the point of the book.
It seems that it's popular to dismiss Holden Caulfield as a spoiled upper class brat or an unrealistic purist. Even the compliments reduce him to a rebel without a cause in the silly, over-glorification of teen angst, à la The Breakfast Club.
I never saw him as any of that and patiently waited to find out the cause of his disenchantment, which it seems was death of his little brother. Of all the things that were causing him to despair, that one was the one thing he couldn't just leave. Moving to that cabin in the woods would take him away from all the phonies, but it wouldn't take him away from that great pain.
An event like that would cause anyone angst, not just a sensitive teenager, so by the end of the book, it seemed that Holden was simply trying to find beauty and truth in a world that was so relentlessly unsparing as to no longer contain someone who had been so dearly loved, and the agonizing search was paid for with his sanity and to an extent, his freedom. Whether he found enough beauty to redeem the world is irrelevant; it would seem that he hadn't by the book's end. I think he showed it to us, but hadn't found it himself. Truthfully, I don't think it was that important. I think it was more important just to hear what he had to say while he was looking. There's no reason to demand the character reach the same conclusions we have.
I also think it was important for Holden to be a teenager in the story because it's unforgivable for a rational adult to go 'round the twist like that. A teenager is old enough to not need his hand held as he roams the city, and we are able to examine the intricacies of grief and despair and the psychological trauma surrounding them without having them filtered through the complications of adult responsibilities which easily stunt such an examination. If Holden was an adult, inevitably we would have to see how his grief affected those with whom he was forced to interact, and we'd judge him harshly for not controlling himself for the sake of others. But with Holden being a teenager, we can see that grief and the accompanying vulnerability as the intensely personal thing that it is.
But Catcher, even though it's one of my favorite books, isn't even my favorite Salinger book. That would be Franny and Zooey. This was the book I related to. Franny and Zooey are the youngest of 7 gifted and talented siblings. One of the main themes of the book is confronting ego. Too deep an analysis will not make a good blog post, but the request to "do it for the Fat Lady" made me want to cry. My love for this book is only heightened by the fact that I consider Franny to be a female literary creation on par with Brett Ashley from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I know I'm being enigmatic, but I don't want to rehash the plot, and would really just enjoy discussing it with someone who has read it.
I'm probably going overboard in the way breathless fans do, but it bothers me not. I guess I'm too old to pretend to be unaffected by that which I genuinely love.
I'd welcome a literary discussion if anyone is up to it. If not, I'm sure I'll have sex soon or find myself in an awkward situation. I'm very much aware that literary criticism is not my true talent...