Book Review

Lost, but not forgotten

By Helen Holmes
Published: February 2010

By far, one of my most vivid memories from freshman year was the fateful day when I strolled into English class and, to my astonishment, saw an expletive scrawled in huge print across the whiteboard.

Shocked, I thought there must have been some mistake. It turned out, however, that the word written on the board was an introduction into reading one of my now-favorite books of all time, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

The novel, Salinger’s magnum opus and his best-known work, describes the adventures of Holden Caulfield, one of the most famous anti-heroes in literature.

The novel has been subject to constant criticism, challenged by parents and school libraries alike, who believed the book to be inappropriate.

Salinger, who lived out of the public eye for half a century in the small town of Cornish, New Hampshire, died at the age of 91.

Salinger was considered by many to be a recluse, and indeed he has not been interviewed since 1980.

His hero in Catcher is similarly isolated; Holden, after being expelled from his latest expensive boarding school, hops a train to New York City alone. He has many compelling experiences in his three days spent on his own, from an awkward encounter with a prostitute to sexual advances from his former English teacher.

Though the novel was published in 1951, its themes of teenage angst, loneliness, and fear of the future have been, at least up until now, timeless.

With the death of its author, has one of the most revered depictions of teenage angst in literature now become obsolete?

For me, at least, the answer is no. For half a century, Catcher has been controversial in the extreme, making its way to multiple banned-book lists across the country.

In 1981, it was both the most censored book and second most taught book in American schools, though many dismissed it as containing a “self-obsessed central character, bogged down by “too much whining.

But what Catcher‘s critics fail to realize is that Salinger created not a radically different or difficult character, but a perfect and timeless representation of collective teenage uncertainty.

At some point in everyone’s life, we have all been Holden Caulfield. Everybody has felt scared or alienated or alone. At some point, we have all looked towards the future and have had no idea what to expect.

With Salinger’s passing, we are losing one of the world’s greatest and most misunderstood authors.

What is most important to realize, however, is that we have not, nor are we likely ever to lose Holden Caulfield, who is as relevant today as the day he strode, a free man, from Pencey Prep, swearing to leave the “goddamn phonies behind forever.

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