Yesterday’s NY Times gave us an article about the demise of Holden’s appeal in the minds of the young. One teacher says, “Holden’s passivity is especially galling and perplexing to many present-day students…In general, they do not have much sympathy for alienated antiheroes; they are more focused on distinguishing themselves in society as it is presently constituted than in trying to change it.”
Another summarizes her students’ attitude as “I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.”
For years I taught a course on novels about adolescence, beginning with The Catcher in the Rye. I reread the novel every semester and found myself gripped, shaken, and finally, reduced to tears. But many of my students stared at me blankly when I rhapsodized about Holden’s journey. When I asked one class how many of them HADN’T liked the novel, almost half of them raised their hands. “And why not?” I asked one of them.
He shrugged. “I’d like to show Holden what real problems are,” he said.
The Times suggests that Holden’s alienation is less accessible to today’s teens because of changes in the way society caters to teenage boys.
Perhaps Holden would not have felt quite so alone if he were growing up today. After all, Mr. Salinger was writing long before the rise of a multibillion-dollar cultural-entertainment complex largely catering to the taste of teenage boys. These days, adults may lament the slasher movies and dumb sex comedies that have taken over the multiplex, but back then teenagers found themselves stranded between adult things and childish pleasures.
(What Holden would have thought, or SAID he thought, about slasher movies and dumb sex comedies is debatable, of course.)
Despite the naysayers, many of my students say they do like the novel – it’s easy to read, Holden is funny, Phoebe is delightful. So I keep going back to it.
Have you read The Catcher in the Rye lately? Do you still love it, if you ever did? Have you taught it, and if so, what did your students think?