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Headscratchers / The Catcher in the Rye

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  • I admit this might be because I read a translated edition, but how did Holden mishear "Coming Thru The Rye" to have that "Catcher In The Rye" delusion? Or, more specifically (if possible), what exactly could he think the lyrics said?
    • He didn't mishear it, he just didn't remember it accurately.
      • It's been a while since I read the book, but I think he heard a kid in the park singing "catch a body"
      • He's not remembering properly. Remember, it's a first-person narration.
    • It's symbolic of his views of the world. He remembers it in a way that matches his desire to "save" children from the corruption of the world. The real way, which he doesn't remember, is about meeting and interacting with people (which he has difficulty doing).
      • Misremembering the lyrics to match his view of the world... yes, makes sense. Pretty "Holdenish", indeed.
  • I am not saying that the book is bad or anything like that, I actually rather enjoyed this book, but I just don't understand why people hold it up to this phony standard as being a dark and edgy book ahead of its time and as being this groundbreaking book about a young intellectual going against the fallacies of the world around him. Not really, all the book is about is a teenager going through the normal struggles that a teenager goes through, and that is basically all there is to it, sure Holden is a little rebellious, but every child sorta goes through a phase like that with their parents and other assorted authority figures. I mean, it is basically a commentary on the struggles of a high school student with all the drama in their academic, professional, and personal circles of life, Holden is an interesting character but hardly anything about his story is groundbreaking.
    • My guess is that it was the first to actually write about it that well.
    • I'm gonna take my time here... I think most of the value of this book is in how Salinger writes his narrator so well it actually comes across as a believable teenager. Myself, I thought I'd have loved the book if I was five years younger (namely, near the narrator's age), but now I see Holden is, indeed, a teenager with his inflated ego and the illusion that he knows much more than he actually does about the world and other people. So, it is groundbreaking because it did give us a narrator that sounded as believable as one could be, and of course by now this concept was repeated and perfected, so it doesn't seem as groundbreaking and intriguing as it was at the time. Also, I think most of the fame of "edgy and dark" the book has is from the chapters near the start(Holden's first night in NY) and the deliberate(and subversive, in the good sense) of the work "FUCK", that rendered it as "edgy" without even using it in a context that would regard it as so. So... it is an awesome book, it has its value, but in the end you're right: it is a book about a teenager going through stuff as a teenager does.
      • I completely loathed it in senior English because I couldn't get past what I saw as Holden just being a whiny little bitch that I wanted to slap upside the head. It wasn't until I re-read it as an adult that I could appreciate the other aspects of the story, even if I still wanted to smack Holden senseless. By the time I hit adolescence, disaffected teenage characters were so much the norm that I had a hard time sympathizing with him, because I'd already read so many stories about troubled teenagers. For me it was definitely a case of Once Original, Now Overdone, and Holden's pseudo-intellectualism started to really grate after the first chapter.
    • Of course, all the YMMV surrounding the book is at least partially rooted in the fact that it was written in another time; It was probably better back when it was first published.
      • Not necessarily; it may just be that the cited reasons for liking or disliking the book have changed.
    • You're right. Holden is just a teenager going through what all teenagers go through, and that's why the book has such universal appeal. In my opinion, at least, the book captures that voice better than most stories about "disaffected youth", and that's why it's held up as a great novel. Also, it's wonderfully written.
      • It hardly has universal appeal — it's definitely one of those divisive books (though it probably wouldn't get nearly so much hate if it wasn't forced on kids in high school). There doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground.
    • Also - the novel is definitely a case of the Once Original, Now Common effect.
  • A lot of people I've encountered seem to think that Mr. Antolini really is a Covert Pervert and that Holden was right to interpret his petting his head while he slept as a sexual act, or at least that it's supposed to be ambiguous. It seemed obvious to me when I read it that Holden had gotten it wrong — it's a perfect illustration of how he tends to think the worst of adults and is so sure that he's the only one feeling the way he does, etc., that he doesn't recognize that Mr. Antolini is a guy who not only sympathizes with his crisis, but understands it, has probably been through something similar, and got past it and grew up and is petting the sleeping Holden out of a poor-kid-I-wish-there-was-something-I-could-do-besides-let-him-sleep-on-my-couch-and-try-to-talk-to-him-about-learning-and-the-nature-of-heroism feeling. And Holden is so far from knowing a Psychologist Teacher/Big Brother Mentor figure when he sees one that he mistakes him for a sexual predator. Am I too assured about this? Did I miss something?
    • No, you have it exactly right. In addition, because Holden is afraid/distrustful of intimacy, when he says "this kind of stuff has happened to me about 20 times since I was a kid" he isn't to be taken seriously either.
    • Or maybe it did happen about 20 times, only they were all equally inoffensive. Holden is the kind of person to overreact, after all.
    • I'm not so sure. Maybe it was different back then but I can't see any adult male thinking that it's a good idea to stroke a boy's hair while he sleeps. In our society, it's not very normal. IIRC, wasn't he also alluding to other things before that incident?
      • Holden was sick, or seemed so at the time. Antolini was taking his temperature.
    • It's his response to holden asking about it that makes it seem off. His phrasing has a somewhat creepy vibe going.
    • I think that something "perverty" did happen to Holden in the past, which causes him to overreact to things like with Mr. Antolini. If you think about it, that really would explain a lot about how Holden reacts to intimacy.
      • This is this troper's interpretation as well. Notice how Holden estimates the number at 20 here, where he normally exaggerates quantities in the thousands or millions.
    • If you read through the scarce mentions of Holden's father, you can see that there's a lot of damage done there, something that Antolini would have noticed as a teacher of his. He also watched this kid watch another boy kill himself, and has guided him through a lot of moments that would screw with anyone's psyche, never mind a (borderline) Asperger's teenager who likes to escape his problems with alcohol. Antolini was likely just being a father figure (which he never had time to practice with his own kids, since according to the book that never happened) in his mind, and it came across wrong to Holden.
    • Antolini says he was "just admiring" something while stroking Holden's hair which to me lands more in the creepy pervert department.
    • Antolini describes Holden as being "handsome" which is not something that one would usually expect a teacher to say to a student. Having said that, Antolini is drunk (or at least that's how Holden sees it) throughout their encounter and that can make people do unwise things and step over boundaries.
  • Is it just me, or does the book have a Heteronormative Crusader tone to it? For example, the world of "perverts" seems to be pretty much anyone having any kind of fetishes whatsoever-it's symbolized by the couple splashing water on each other in a sexual way, and a man in woman's clothing. And Holden, of course, feels that this is wrong.
    • It's not exactly out-of-character for him.
    • It was written in 1951.
    • It does, but we're in Holden's head. It probably comes off that way because he's an insecure teenager trying to figure out who he really is. Rather than the opinions of the author, it comes off more as Holden being scared of his own feelings. He considers practically any intimacy to be objectively wrong and reacts viscerally to it.
    • If "perverty stuff" actually did happen to him, that might explain his homophobia and fears of being gay himself (mentioned when he's looking back on Carl telling the students about how the could just "turn into flits").
  • "Crummy" looks wrong when it's spelled "crumby". The word doesn't come from "crumb".
    • Maybe it was Salinger's pet word. According to our "Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma" article, Lewis Carroll insisted that the proper contraction of "can not" was "ca'n't", and spelled it thusly in everything he wrote. This was patently absurd, but people just get on crusades sometimes.

  • Why does everyone say that Holden is a jerk and that he's "manipulative"? Sure, he uses bad words and lies about his age so that he can get drunk, but he seems like a pretty nice guy beyond that. He always has something sympathetic to say even if he doesn't initially like a person, and to me he's more of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander (thinking about random things, in his own little world, the "where do the ducks go in the winter when they can't use the pond" thing) than any of that. I heard about the book and expected him to be like Malcolm (a sociopath almost) from Malcolm in the Middle, but he seems to just be a disoriented guy who doesn't know what he's talking about and always wavers between oppinions. Holden really does.
    • Most people agree that the nine Character Alignments exist, f'ex, but not everybody agrees on who falls into which alignment because they (the classifiers, not the classified) have differing criteria for "good", "chaotic", "neutral" and etc. It doesn't help that Holden (like a real person) falls into differing alignments at different times, as he is willing to break or follow rules, be a jerk or a nice guy, according to the situation he is in at the time. In the end, it stops depending on who Holden is and starts being about who the observer is. Do they fixate on nice people or mean people? Because Holden is both.
    • The only time I can remember where he says something nice about someone or something he doesn't like and it isn't just to make the bad things he says about him/her/it seem worse is saying Stradlater is a nice guy, and he was saying it to someone whom he really liked to annoy and who hated Stradlater. And considering he doesn't seem to like anything, that's saying a lot.
    • I don't know about the "manipulative" part, but Holden comes across as an arrogant jerk for how much he criticizes the world and the society without ever looking at his own reflection to ask himself if he's any better. He implicitly acts as if it's the world's fault that his life's in the crapper, and rarely if ever acknowledges his own numerous mistakes in the narration.
      • There is also his blatant hypocrisy in looking down on nearly everyone else as "phonies" and then repeatedly lying when the situation suits him. I believe this is intended. He's not supposed to be seen as any better than anyone else.

  • What I don't understand about Holden's ideas about keeping children innocent is how will they be passed on? If part of that is keeping them away from sex, who will inherit his ideas and ideals? Most information is passed from parent to child. Most times, people have to have sex in order to have children and the means of not having sex to have children was virtually unheard of.
    • That's sort of the point. Holden is talking about how he feels and is mostly raw emotion. He's not a critical thinker, but an unhappy kid projecting his unhappiness on the world. When you think about it, he grew up in an era of square jawed heroes and rah rah war movies. He's literally living in a world where a great number of combat veterans are still in their prime. He sees the flaws in these adults, some of whom were actual war heroes, and can't yet reconcile it with the heroes he's been raised to expect.
    • This doesn't seem to answer the question.
    • He just wants keep children innocent while they're still children, not for ever.
    • Thanks for the clarification.

  • How is Holden a Byronic Hero? He's not very charismatic, not self-critical (he's very much the opposite), and not an internally motivated person, content to just complain about the world rather than do something about it. Holden doesn't even live up to his own standards of not being a phony, pretending to be "Rudolph" (or was it Rudolf?) to another classmate's mother, to give an example, and doesn't even try.
    • Like Rochester before him, his charisma is in the eye of the beholder—and he's certainly self-loathing with an internal conflict and Freudian Excuse. How much more do you need?