It never occurred to me that Holden was white or that the story was about race at all.
I guess the author of that article would say “it never occurred to you, because you and Holden are white,” but when I re-read the book for a highschool lit class (that was more than 50% female and probably at least 40% non-white) no one mentioned Holden’s white male-ness, either.
We talked about his being an outsider accusing society of phoniness. A vocal minority said he was just whining. A few kids said he was crazy. Most people thought he was funny.
Were we all just reading the book wrong, or what?
The author seems to assert that the only valid way to experience being an outsider is by being part of a minority class, but I feel like way more of an outsider for being overly-sensitive than I do for, say, being gay.
I think Holden’s experience of alienation is valid and touching whether that alienation is accompanied by discrimination or not.
(I do appreciate his commending the novel Tyrell, though, because I think PUSH publishes the best YA fiction today.)
To me the most salient characteristic of Holden is a yearning for undefiled, genuine-feeling love and understanding between people and of oneself, not alienation or a feeling of being persecuted. He yearns for people and feelings and experiences to not be ruined, perverted, thwarted, ended by societal constructs, by individuals, by death. He yearns to be a catcher in the rye of *all* on the edge of despair. He is not so much an outcast as he is a sensitive idealist who feels disenchanted not (intrinsically) via an abuse of privilege but via an overwhelming yen to preserve and cherish honesty and love in the world.
A more perfect world such as the one for which he hopes cannot and does not exist by the end of the novel, but he finds himself missing, that is loving, everyone, even those who had disappointed or annoyed him. Holden is not a white outsider. He is a flawed human who wants to be a shepherd, a savior, but can’t be, can only increase in mindfulness of the people he knows, of the world such as it is.
No, you didn’t read the book wrong…the guy’s article was (for lack of a better word) bullshit.
In fact, I’d love him to go visit a white girl I work with (in a predominantly black school) at the mental institution she was admitted to today and tell her that she should write her life story someday…but as black male…because, you know, it is more marketable.
the shift […] from a majority-white to a majority-minority nation
Wouldn’t that make the story of an “actual minority” person exactly: “relevant”??
–I mean, as (I think) is meant in the blogicle, “relevant” in the identity-political sense of ‘representative’.
I think what makes Catcher in the Rye “relevant” is – or is not – what makes Huck Finn and The House on Mango Street and The Bluest Eye and Cat’s Eye “relevant” – or not – : beautiful writing that catalyzes feeling and thought regardless of some empathetic fusion of the political identities of the protagonist and reader.
The primary problem with this article is the idea that Holden is irrelevant to begin with. Such is not the case. The examples he gives of the “white outsider” are, more accurately, examples of outsiders who also happens to be white. Trying to insert race into a conversation about being an outsider is a real stretch. The question he should have asked or explored is “Where is the black Holden Caulfield?” Where is the story of someone who is not white who is an outsider, not because of their race but because of the reasons Holden is an “outsider”? Also, it’s a little funny how he reaches from Catcher in the Rye to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Spider Man instead of focusing solely on the literature of the outsider of which there is plenty.
was a soft-looking fellow and it didn’t help that he was always
wearing tired jeans and flannel shirts. He had a soft, round face and
dark black greasy hair that mopped over his ears and his forehead and
neck. He looked like he was born one decade too late. It got him a
lot of shit in high school. Evan gave him a lot of shit, too. But he
always stuck to that stupid outfit, and eventually no one noticed
anymore. By the time everyone had read Catcher
in the Rye and
concluded that anyone who was eccentric and weird it actually helped
Jan. It made him “idiosyncratic.” All in all, you’d look at
Jan, and you could tell he was one of those “idiosyncratic” kids,
straight out of some sensitive movie or book where the male main
character cries when someone wants to start a fight with him. And all
the girls who thought they could figure out such an “idiosyncratic”
and “mysterious” character like Jan fell in love with him because
they felt they could connect with him. The problem was Jan was
actually just another quiet little bitch who only could get attention
when he put on an act. His personality was ok, but it was nothing to
love. But it didn’t matter. To kids who didn’t take the time to
know him, or to the kids too afraid of him, they just regarded him as
I got the idea when I biked past Alessandro Elementary School in Los Angeles last year and saw a lone white girl playing kickball surrounded by “minority” teammates. She looked happy and I started wondering what it would be like to be the only white kid in your school. I know it’s happened before but soon it will be the norm. Then I read Catcher in the Rye (which I had never read before) to use as a peg for the essay.
Thanks for shelving my books at B&N. Glad they looked interesting. Perhaps now you will find them interesting enough to read…
Holden does “yearn” for connection not to be misshapen by “societal constructs”, but he experiences his yearning – he expresses it to the other characters in the story – in ways that repel other people.
–and the roots (in his mindfulness) of his repelling behavior – his pushing away other people – are just what interfere with his ability to shepherd rather than to repel–and, I think, to realize his responsibility for or at least contribution to preventing his “yearning” from being clearer to those other characters.
That circularity of self-defeat seems to me fairly called “alienation”, estrangement, a ‘disabling unfamiliarity with how or even whether to harbor or foster mindful human connection’.
In my recollection Holden criticizes and dismisses people in his private thoughts much moreso than he repels other people in external reality with his actions or words. His conflict is with existence moreso than with himself or with others. I don’t think he defeats himself within the context/goal of wanting to be less disappointed by others and by life/society. If one is to call what he has alienation, it would need, according to me, to be qualified as profound alienation or existential alienation. Any reading of Holden as some kind of entitled ennui-laden navel-gazer getting in his own way or whathaveyou is to me a shallow reading. But his flaws or his humanity, as I would spin it, which you point to, do not to me cancel out the fact of his yearning being an impossible yearning, not one whose fulfillment he self-defeats. The ideas and emotions Holden points to in this book are not ones to be solved by snapping out of it and conforming to societal expectations. Furthermore, he never abandons or seriously doubts his mindful human connection to those he cherishes most like his sister and deceased brother. It’s not clear to me, deadgod, whether you are criticizing Holden as having debilitating character flaws or whether you are suggesting that Holden or the book is suggesting a terminal alienation from people and society. If the latter, I think any reading of the book as being ultimately misanthropic is inaccurate.
I think profound, perhaps ultimately existentially inescapable, but not hopeless alienation would be correct.
When I say “repel”, I mean ‘behave “impossibly”‘; a sharp example would be how he provokes Stradlater to punch his face, and, to me, the plot of the story is one interaction after another where Holden makes it tough for people to interact with him (like the taxi driver on the way to the club where Ernie plays piano, going by my memory).
I don’t say or mean that ‘it’s all Holden’s fault’, nor do I refer to nor am concerned with his being an “entitled ennui-laden navel-gazer”, but I definitely see non-conformity as Holden constructs or practices it as being a vicious circle of acting in ways that prevent connection rather than harboring or fostering it.
Do you see the cruel irony of Holden failing to be for himself a catcher-in-the-rye?
I’d also add that frustration of the interest in and desire for mindful connection isn’t a special disability of Holden’s–it’s practically categorically a human experience, no? What’s compellingly sad about Holden, to me, is that he displays both his will to connect and his unpleasantness to other people to us without seeing their contradiction clearly for himself. That is down to Salinger’s art, which is why teaching his book to non-white kids is a non-problem.