Saturday, 8 April 2017

Small Thoughts on The Catcher in the Rye

Recently I read J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye for the ninth time, and even though I believe it to be the book I understand most in the world, there's still one overwhelming question I want an answer to. Why does Holden want to protect innocence? What was the overwhelming cause for the obsession with saving children from the dangers of adulthood?

Though my life I've done a lot of research on Salinger as a man and I like to think that I've got a good idea as to why he wrote the things he wrote, and how his real life experiences translate into his fiction. But first, I wanted to find out what other people thought about this question. Maybe I was missing something and there were other Catcher experts out there who would be able to enlighten me on the reason Holden acts why he does.

I found the series of videos that author John Green had created on Catcher that you can watch here. In the comments, someone suggested that Holden was "sexually abused as a child ... why don't people ever catch on to this!?" Whilst I disagree with the frankness of their claim, I do agree on a second look at the evidence. When Holden wakes to find Mr Antolini patting his head as he sleeps, he claims "that kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid". There's certainly a reading here that suggests Holden has experienced some kind of sexual abuse from an adult in the past, but one also has to take in to account that Holden is extremely unreliable. What exactly does he mean by "stuff"? It is a very slippery sentence, and the fact that Holden is prone to over-exaggeration makes me in two minds about any kind of sexual abuse. Yet of course, there's still definitely the possibility that this could be the case.

But one further comment I really disagreed with was the claim that "Salinger puts aspects of himself into the characters he creates so this probably happened to him as a kind ... writing this book was his way of self-therapy/cry for help in saying things he just couldn't bring himself to say in real life".

WHOA. HOLD ON. Big claim there. As far as I know there is zero evidence that Salinger was ever abused as a child (though I'm not denying it could've easily been covered up), and just because Holden might have been abused does not automatically mean that the writer themselves has gone through the same thing. Though I definitely think Salinger translates his own experiences into his work, and especially with Catcher, I think without any further evidence the claim that Salinger was abused just because Holden alludes to it is far to much of a stretch.

My own view on this matter comes down to something very different: the war. Salinger fought in the Second World War and many critics and personal friends of his have concluded that he suffered from shell-shock as a result of it. On my ninth read, I picked up more references to the war than before. There is a small section where Holden talks about how he used to refuse to give Allie his BB gun to play with. The gun is a symbol of corruption, trauma and loss for Salinger, and by refusing to give it to Allie shows how Holden tries to protect him from the horrors of adulthood that Salinger experience through combat. Adulthood for Holden comes through experience, and for Salinger this experience was damaging because of the war, and not sexual abuse.

Though sex definitely plays a part inside the novel, I would say that it is more relevant as a signifier of adulthood than as a direct cause of why Holden is protecting others from experience. I will be doing another post soon on the role of sex and sexuality in the novel, and why I think Holden is asexual. For now, though, my reasoning for Holden's personality lies on the speculation of war. Of course, without having a conversation with Salinger nobody will ever know, but I think discussion is as close as we will come to finding out.

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