J. D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye started out as filler material during the University of Alberta’s International Week. There’s loads of time to kill waiting for lectures to start, and not a whole ton of homework to fill it with, so I started cruising through another book. It took until reading week to gather enough time together to finish off the last couple chapters but it’s not because I didn’t enjoy it. I’d say it’s probably one of the better books I’ve ever read.
Salinger really manages to share his thoughts about phonies, societal uniformity, and finding purpose in life without ever straying from the story he’s telling. While I thought the massive quantity of goddams and other assorted curses was kinda humorous I can see why my Mom’s recollection of the book is one of the controversy it caused rather than the content.
So for highlights of the book, I guess the whole commentary that Salinger is making on the everyday person’s “facade” is really what I started digging out as I read through it. The best snippets (that I remember) are below:
“Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he asked me, ‘Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?’ The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would have enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all. That kind of stuff drives me crazy. I’m not saying it ruined our conversation or anything – it didn’t – but it sure as hell didn’t do it any good.” — Page 112-113
“You should have seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that had to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady’s foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body. He said that the play itself was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were absolute angels. Angels. For Chrissake. Angels. That killed me. Then he and old Sally started talking about a lot of people they both knew. It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life. They both kept thinking of places as fast as they could, then they’d think of somebody that lived there and mention their name. I was all set to puke then it was time to go sit down again. I really was. And then, when the next act was over, they continued their goddam boring conversation. They kept thinking of more places and more names of people that lived there. — Page 127-128.
So, this Holden Caulfield kid is pretty critical of everyone else who goes about life being fake and achieving nothing. Really though, he’s being the dead weight in society. He feels entitled to go about life cruising New York and avoiding reality because he’s being himself and not some phoney, who doesn’t want to be himself. To be honest I’m just waiting for someone to slap this guy up side the head and send him out to work for his daily wage. Where’s the balance supposed to go though? Let people fake their entire lives as long as they do so in a socially acceptable way, pulling their own fair share of the world’s weight? Or should we embrace the “enlightened” and allow them to go about their enlightened ways because somehow they are bringing some good into our lives.
If you stretch the analogy too far, which I did because I had the time, you start to wonder why the government should support any form of arts, any form of advanced research, any form of sport, that cannot fund itself by the capital it can raise on it’s own. If Canada can’t support a nordic skiing team based on public interest and event ticket sales why does anyone have the right to do that as their profession. How come some sociology professor can study Buffy the Vampire Slayer with government funded grants when they cannot support that research with the funding of an interested commercial enterprise. Why should I get a ride on government funded scholarships to study material properties, fly back and forth to Holland, and try to get papers published in academic journals when there is no industrial application ready to be put into production.
Holden Caulfield acts as though he has some right, or entitlement to behave in the way he does because he feels he is being true to himself. His own measure of integrity is internal and fully variable with each day’s circumstances. We in some sense like the guy, partly because he’s the protagonist and we’re supposed to, but mostly because we see what we’d suggest are phonies all around us. People towing the consumerism line, married with 1.4 kids and 2.2 cars. Holden’s entitled because he is real, but where is my definition of real coming from. I can’t swing too far that way without making myself sick. There’s a perceived real-ness to being the granola munching, bike riding, sweater-pant wearing, communist voting, anarchist protesting hippie. Isn’t that form of real-ness somewhat different from the form of real-ness that is in fact honorable and beneficial to the world. There’s a fine line between being the practice what you preach form of “real” and taking such a hard and fast interpretation of real-ness that you’re incapable of being real yourself.