Thanks for reminding me to read a book this quarter.
Because I cannot read an adequate book in two hours and don’t want to write this about something I have not truly read, I will have to consult the vast information banks of my mind to remember a book I read years ago. That book shall be The Catcher in the Rye. I probably already used this book for school at least twice. Oops.
When my good friend handed me the book and told me to read it, I expected nothing but the best writing I’d ever scanned off a page – after all, this is a classic book from around 1950 that is still popular. When I was done reading it, it just made me kind of sad. My friend said the book was hilarious. I believe both of us missed the entire point of the novel.
It has been said time and time again about this work that it has to do with coming of age, that is summarizes teenage angst, or is a social commentary about the shallowness of society as a whole. Those must be highly educated interpretations, as when I read this book, being close in age to the protagonist, all I truly witnessed was the story of one individual who, although easy to empathize with, is not the token American 17 year old.
The majority of the book consists of Holden going through several packs of cigarettes while hazily reacting to his environment in New York City, sort of aimlessly spending his time before the inevitable return to an educational institution. Was his state of mind understandable? Yes. Was it written so that you could picture the setting with detail, and perhaps imagine yourself in his shoes? Yes. Did the novel provide themes that one would typically associate with coming of age? I would say no.
Sure, dodging your problems even though they must be dealt with eventually feels pretty familiar right about now, and I have been known to restlessly switch from conversation to conversation whilst not fully occupying my conscious mind in the present, but many of the actions in contained in this novel are anything but realistic. One could argue that times have changed, but barhopping in a major city after a series of unfortunate events at the ripe old age of 17 seems quite far fetched for a book that is touted as the realistic coming of age story to end them all.
Once again I have to disagree with the established popular opinion on a cultural icon. Sure, it was a commercial success, and panned to such a wide audience that it somehow got support from domestic terrorists and sane folk alike, but we cannot be convinced by sheer sales alone when plainly bad entertainment makes billions every year.
What can convince us is our own personal experiences and how we relate to the work as individuals. As I continue to write this essay I can not longer hide the fact that now, at the age of 17 myself, I can relate to the novel much more than when I first read it, and I have migrated from my initial stance after some thought. It may not be a story everyone can see themselves in objectively, but subjectively, an A student has just now reflected on an increasingly familiar state of mind which he was foretold of by a dropout. Our settings, the environments we found ourselves in, and the ways we reacted to them differ with polar proportions, but we were left with the same hazy anxiety.
It is now that I understand why this book appealed to a mass of people spanning generations and intentions. I at first could not appreciate the writing fully, but Holden was reflecting and dreaming from within a sad state, and by the end of the reading, I too was sad.
Perhaps in a blind sense, I knew the meaning of the story all along.