So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Holden Caulfield. And as weird as that sounds, this isn’t actually abnormal for me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Holden Caulfield. In fact, I had a pretty big crush on Holden when I was a teenager (crushes on fictional characters are totally real and totally legit guys! Despite the fact that your crush will clearly go nowhere.)
But what brought on this most recent round of Holden-centric thought was a conversation I had with a family friend last week. This family friend – about my parents’ age – recently re-read Catcher in the Rye, and found that she didn’t like it. At all. This was a surprise because she remembered reading it as a teenager and loving it.
There tends to be a sharp divide about Holden. Most people either LOVE Catcher in the Rye, which usually means they love Holden despite his faults, or HATE Catcher in the Rye because they can’t stand Holden. The complaints usually include some or all of these issues: that he’s whiny, he’s over-privileged and unappreciative, that he’s as phony as the phonies he complains about thus making him a hypocrite, that he’s just plain annoying, and more. Interestingly enough though, I agree with most of this – but it doesn’t make Holden any less interesting or likable to me. I love him because when I’m reading about him, he’s real. I love him because he’s deeply damaged but still tries to reach out to other people and form connections. I love him because for all his whininess and privilege, he’s also funny and compassionate and smart.
But I also think the reason some people like him and some people don’t simply has to do with when they read the book (like my friend who loved the book as a teenager and couldn’t stand it as an adult,) as well as – ultimately – how much the individual in question likes teenagers. I’m not in any way saying that all teenagers are like Holden, or that all teenagers will like Holden. But so much of him is directly related to his adolescence, to the conflicting forces of change and nostalgia in him, and to the fact that he is trying to figure out who he is and what he wants his relationship with the world to be. Plenty of teenagers can’t stand Holden either, but I still think that whether or not a reader can understand and sympathize with Holden’s difficult adolescence makes a huge difference in whether or not a reader will like Catcher in the Rye.
So I suggest giving Holden another chance, and giving Catcher in the Rye another chance. Even if you still don’t like Holden, the book is a masterpiece, and absolutely worth your time. And if I can’t convince you, maybe John Green can:
What do you think? Have you always loved Holden? Have John Green and I convinced you to give him the benefit of the doubt? Or are you still on the “whiny and obnoxious” side of things?