If you’ve been following my progress through the thirty-day book project, you may be asking an obvious question: what the &$%# happened to day 25? Well, what happened to day 25 is this. I typed up a nice post for day 25, then either I never hit the “publish button” or else some bug in the software stopped it from actually appearing on my blog. So, in the ‘better late than never’ category, here is day 25.
My choice for this category is The Catcher in the Rye. The character, of course, is Holden Caulfield. Most people are required to read this book while in high school. I was not. I may be the only person who read The Catcher in the Rye voluntarily around age 18. Holden Caulfield immediately got my attention and stuck with me. He is one of only two characters who I could possibly put in this category. (The other one would be Yossarian from Catch 22.)
When I say that I relate to Holden Caulfield, I don’t mean that I am like him or that I ever was. I have never attended a fancy east-coast prep school. I have never run away from such a school. I have never spent several days wandering aimlessly around New York City on my own. I’ve never suffered a total mental breakdown. That is not the point, though.
We encounter Holden Caulfied as a teenager, in a place surrounded by other teenagers. All are white, all from decently well-off families, all nearing the end of high school. They are not stupid, but they’re completely unable to communicate with each other. They have no sense of purpose. They haven’t been given any vision by which to guide their lives.
Holden Caulfield runs away from school and lives on his own in New York City for several days. While there, he wanders around and gets into various types of trouble. He is badly confused: about himself, about his future, about love, about sex, about money and many other things. He has various visions about what he might do to get away from the crazy society he lives in, but they shift rapidly and he doesn’t actually take action towards any of them. He knows deep down that he needs real love and companionship but doesn’t have any clue where to look for it.
There’s a sharply divided reaction to this character. Some people understand him immediately and view him as one of the great characters in American literature. Others find him completely unlikable and off-putting. I would venture that in some cases, at least, young readers find that this book hits a little bit too close for comfort.