Old School Sundays: J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”

I’ve been an avid reader since the day my parents introduced me to The Baby’s Bedtime Book by Kay Chorao when I was a mere toddler. But in tenth grade, I read Salinger’s Cather in the Rye and discovered the power of narrative voice. I’d never come across a story where it seemed like the narrator was speaking directly to me. And it was so conversational, informal. I was instantly hooked. I’ve taught the book as well, and teenagers just always seem to take to it–maybe it’s the adolescent angst, rolling circumlocution, lack of structure (unlike their fixed lifestyles), or perhaps it’s just one of the best stories ever written.

The following is not the most philosophical observation Holden Caulfield makes during his bittersweet odyssey, but I laugh out loud every time I read it:

Holden, after making the decision to flee Pencey Prep, makes a quick stop at his history teacher, Mr. Spencer’s, home to say goodbye:

“…For instance, one Sunday when some other guys and I were over there for hot chocolate, he showed us this old beat-up Navajo blanket that he and Mrs. Spencer’d bought off some Indian in Yellowstone Park. You could tell old Spencer’d got a big bang out of buying it. That’s what I mean. You take somebody old as hell, like old Spencer, and they can get a big bang out of buying a blanket” (Salinger, 7).

It really isn’t earth-shattering wisdom, or sky-reaching insight; yet, I’m going to go ahead and say “I feel” what’s Holden’s talking about. Holden is likely remarking on the mundane lives of his older counterparts, i.e. their lives are so dull that a new blanket is the coolest thing ever. I think, however, on a deeper level, Holden wishes a blanket was all he needed to maintain satisfaction.

There’s a moral in there if you think about it 🙂

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Old School Sundays: J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”

  1. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ I really should do that one of these days…

  2. Your excerpt made me laugh out loud too. 🙂
    Now that I think about it, do you think there might be some parallels between Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’? I might have to re-read them to see. The rambling narrative seems similar to me.

    • Odd you mention that, I was considering dedicating this week’s “Old School Sunday” to ‘On the Road’ before ultimately deciding on ‘Catcher.’ There is definitely that 1950’s hipster (a.k.a beatnik) thing going on in both books!

  3. I feel like a fraud that I never read this classic. I blame my schooling. Maybe, when I can fine time, I will start reading the classics that I missed. At least I’ve read Romeo and Juliet right?

    • It is your school’s fault! Like I was saying up above though, it’s a pretty quick read. It’s not like reading ‘War and Peace’ or anything! It’s worth it, and it won’t be impossible to get through.

  4. “Catcher” is indeed a great example of first-person narrative voice. It’s so different reading it than hearing it on audio (where the aloud narrator made for a excessively whiny Holden). I wonder how many times he says “I hate that” throughout the novel. It works … because I believe that he, as a young man/boy, would overuse the term.

    • Interesting you mention “whiny” Holden–I came across an article once that said teenagers today don’t relate to the hero as much these days. They find him whiny and ungrateful. Hmmm…

  5. Such a great book. I must reread. That and The Great Gatsby!

  6. I LOVE “Catcher..” I read it in high school as well, and definitely related to his angst and overwhelment with the adult world. I actually had to reread in in my college class and was totally confused by some of the students reactioon, saying that they couldn’t relate to him because he was ungrateful and from the upper class.. I feel like this book opened up a social voice for adolescence during that time. “Perks of Being a Wallflower” really reminds me of this book.

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