Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Exploring Literature

Every once in a while I revert to my English major ways and choose to read a work of "literature" that I never really got to in my education. Two years ago, I went through several of Faulkner's works, such as As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! I appreciated the detail, techniques and buried clues within the novels, but left them feeling depressed and wondering how this "celebrated" author got by with being so completely and unapologetically racist. I can't think of one black character in his books that wasn't portrayed as stupid or devious.

This past week, I picked up The Catcher In The Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Somehow I made it all the way through high school and college without actually reading the book. I wasn't even sure what it was about. After all, what the heck does "catcher in the rye " mean anyway? I had no context for the title or what hidden meanings it might have. All I knew was that sometimes it was considered a controversial book, but I still didn't know why.

Holden Caufield, the adolescent protagonist of the book, narrates a period of a few days that begins when he leaves the latest boarding school which has kicked him out. We follow his story from school back to his home through a series of stream-of-consciousness narrations that meander from one thought to the next in Holden's adolescent, slang and profanity-filled voice. (I am assuming all the swear words are the main reason for being censored in some schools.)

While reading the book, I kept waiting to unravel some particular point that Salinger was trying to make. A few things came through; the phoniness of people, the uncertainty of sex that pops up frequently for Holden, and the confusion and lostness of the adolescent. However, I was left at the end of the book trying to figure out what exactly Salinger's point is. The only thing I with which I could come up was that Salinger was trying to make the anti-point--lots of words and digressions that aren't unified and don't have any overall connectedness to each other.

"You don't care to have somebody stick to the point when he tells you
something?" [Mr Antolini to Holden]
"Oh sure!I like somebody to stick to the point and all. But I don't
like them to stick too much to the point. I guess I don't like it
when somebody sticks to the point all the time." [Holden] pp 183

OK, Salinger...what's your point? I laughed when I read a review that basically called Catcher In The Rye one of the worst novels ever written. I could appreciate some of what Salinger had to share, but have to agree that, for the most part, the book is much ado about nothing.

P. S. "catcher in the rye" refers to a children's song/rhyme that is briefly used in the course of the book. It is dealt with, only briefly, when Holden says that he would want to be a catcher in the rye, catching all the little children that might accidently fall off a cliff that is near to where they are playing. Holden's sister, Phoebe, corrects Holden's misqoute and reminds him it is a Robert Burns poem.

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