An anachronistic figure in the 21st century

David Busch

I didn’t like “The Catcher in the Rye” when I read it in high school. Everybody told me I should have. They told me that Holden Caulfield’s life was a metaphor of their own. Even my English teacher worshipped him to the extent that if a student disagreed, he or she was shunned to literary hell for the lack of intellectual fervor toward J.D. Salinger.

It is reasonable, though, that J.D. Salinger’s personal life – the reclusiveness and simplicity – outshines his literary works. Salinger’s last published work was a novella entitled “Hapworth 16, 1924,” in 1965. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Salinger was involved in many legal battles with his biographer, Ian Hamilton, and over the release of memoirs by his ex-lover Joyce Maynard and his daughter Margaret Salinger. Beyond that, Salinger’s life was mostly left for the imaginative mind.

Thus, Salinger’s dogmatic readers were left panting at the mouth for more. I can just picture my English teacher hugging “The Catcher in the Rye” close to his chest, with a small tear trickling down his face upon hearing the news of Salinger’s death. I can picture the slow cars crawling around every corner of Cornish, New Hampshire trying to catch sight of their sought after myth of a man or, even more creepy, the small funeral procession.

As the news media reported on the death of Salinger last week, the stories ranged from the personal interpretations of “The Catcher in the Rye” to the stalkers hunting down the red bus stop that indicated the street Salinger lived on. But Salinger’s beliefs and passions for writing “The Catcher in the Rye” were still left in the unknown.

Maybe it is best left that way. In 21st century America, privacy and individual contemplation has dissipated with the onset of fast technology. Twenty-four-hour media scrutinizes every avenue of thought and action of celebrities and political figures that the very essence of their humanity is questioned. Facebook and Twitter allow instant access to anyone’s private life to which I find myself reading about a friend’s relationship status on Facebook, though I haven’t had a real conservation with them in years.

In chapter 3 of “The Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield notes that, “What really knocks me out is a book, when you’re all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” And, well, maybe that is what everybody wanted out of Salinger – to be his friend. Ironically, Salinger was the reader’s friend but not in the terms of 21st century fame.

Salinger’s wisdom, his legacy of thought and contemplation were left in the words and the endless meanings of “The Catcher in the Rye.” Salinger is human, just like you and me, and although he has written a novel that will perpetually influence many lives to come, he suffers through the same questions that all of us have as humans. And a good friend doesn’t need to give answers; he just needs to give better questions.

Perhaps, then, it is best to leave off with another quote by Holden Caulfield because it also begs for more questions and deeper thought. “Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

David Busch is a senior philosophy and

history major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].