I am so happy to say that I can finally check The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger off the list of books that I should have read in high school and have never gotten around to. Having finished it, I regret now more than ever that I didn’t read this in high school. My high school self would have related strongly to the confusion and fears that Holden Caulfield expresses. As an adult I caught myself scoffing at some of his contradictory opinions and choices just before realizing that I’ve become one of the “phony adults” he’s always complaining about.
One thing that I know high school me and adult me would agree on with this book is that Holden Caulfield’s view of women, while true to the time, are wildly uncomfortable to read. It’s one of the few themes that I struggled with while reading The Catcher in the Rye. Sexual curiosity and even confusion is, obviously still a relevant and relatable topic today. However, I think the objectification and expectations had by Holden of women places the book squarely in the time it was written. This was disappointing because I’d alway heard how timeless this book is.
I agree that the angst and growing pains experienced by Holden are timeless, universal teenage truths, but every time he said something like, “I mean most girls are so dumb and all. After you neck them for a while. you can really watch them losing their brains.” (ch. 13) I got pulled out of the story. This particular example really gutted me because after he talks about how girls are dumb he discusses how he feels silly and guilty for stopping sexual advances when a girl asks him to. He believes he should really keep going because that’s what everybody else does. I am very aware that for that time period this was perhaps a normal way of thinking. I just worry that if the people teaching this book don’t explicitly say that this is not an acceptable way of thinking, teenagers that relate in almost every other way to this character will be led to perpetuate sexism. This book, like almost every other book, can be an opportunity to have a conversation. I hope that people are using the opportunity.
Despite my concerns about the The Catcher in the Rye, I think it’s an important book for teenagers to read. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t, at some point, felt like they weren’t being heard. This is what Holden is experiencing almost the entire book. Except that Holden is the narrator and he’s speaking about his past. Ultimately not only is he heard, but he’s heard by anyone that reads the book. That’s a pretty spectacular take away for teenagers that are feeling helpless. You can write your way out of silence, fear, and loneliness and if you don’t believe me read The Catcher and the Rye and look at Holden Caulfield.