With the death last week of beloved author J.D. Salinger, lit fans the world over are pouring over their dog-eared copies of Catcher in the Rye — and many are talking about its impact on their lives and on the world.
This week, The New York Times asked if Catcher in the Rye still resonates with today’s teens. After all, Holden Caulfield didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or cell phones. Teachers and other literary experts weighed in. But we thought the best people to ask would be actual teens. So of course, we put our new teen contributors to work, asking them: does Catcher in the Rye still relate to today’s teens?
Here’s what our teens had to say:
I have not read Catcher in the Rye (we are reading it in school this year), but from what I hear it is a story about a rebellious teenager, Holden Caulfield trying to grasp at maturity. As a teenager I feel that this kind of behavior and attitude is still relevant, even if it is dated. Our generation might be more technologically focused, but that does not change the simple intrinsic feeling near all of us have: rebellion toward those older than us. Most teens are trying to grow up too fast just as Holden Caulfield did in Catcher.
We all feel alienated by adults at one point or another, mainly just because they have more freedom than us. The ways that Holden reacts to these feelings may be old-fashioned and unheard of nowadays, but the essence of his character touches close to home to teenagers today and will for awhile, you can count on it.
My first experience with The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was actually back in tenth grade when my older brother was reading it for his AP English Literature and Composition summer assignment. I remember the complaints from the entire class that year when the teacher unfairly tested them on trivial information, such as “What is the song playing on the carousel when Phoebe is riding?”. My brother and his friends, though they absolutely adored the novel, still cried foul after the grading was done. And for about the next two years or so, I did not hear much of Catcher in the Rye until I had to read it myself.
I had only just turned eighteen a few weeks prior and moved into the “adult” world. Suddenly, after eighteen years of waiting, I was finding myself in a kind of limbo between the innocence of childhood and the cruel reality that there really is no looking back now. It was this feeling that connected me to Holden’s character. I felt that I understood what he meant when he said, “What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them … I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” I’m not sure if I really wanted to protect children from the fall into the harsh reality of life, but I felt that he had a noble idea, though it was bound to fail. No one can stop reality from intervening.
I remember distinctly sitting in the auditorium reading the first page and thinking that I actually was indeed interested in his childhood. Though that might have been because I am really interested in reading about people’s personal lives; fictional or nonfictional, I like to read about them all.
It was not long before I was sucked into this novel. I found myself laughing at Holden’s sarcastic and bitter remarks to all those around him, though ninety percent of them were only to the reader and himself. I cheered him on when he traveled through New York searching for the ducks. His utter childlike innocence in a whole of cruel adult reality reminded me of the stage of my life I was going through. I was supposed to be fully grown, but yet, I still felt that I was practically a child. As Holden was learning that childhood cannot last forever, I was learning the exact same lesson. Just in a lesser manner. I can safely say I was not traveling around New York City calling out for my deceased brother, trying to find out what happens to the ducks from taxi drivers, or strolling around town in a red hunting cap.
Reading this novel actually made me have to re-evaluate my sanity. Knowing what Holden’s condition is, I literally feared that I felt so connected to him, that I, myself, might too be a nutcase. Fortunately, I have found that I am just fine.
It is from this connection, that Catcher in my opinion definitely resonates with some teens today. Just look at pop culture. Green Day has an entire song dedicated to Holden and his escapade (“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”). And I just learned about ten minutes ago that if you search “red hunting cap (or hat)”, the first pictures you find are of Holden strolling New York in his famous hat that he uses for “people shooting”. As well as, there is an entire archive of fanfiction based purely on this novel (Yes, I have read Catcher in the Rye fanfiction).
For me personally, I have even found myself taking toilet paper and attempting to wipe away the profanities in the bathroom of my high school. Only to pause for a moment to think about how weird I must look. But, for some strange reason, I felt the need to at least help Holden out a little bit on his quest to protect the youth. It was then that I remembered that Holden was a fictional character. And thus I was re-evaluating my sanity.
When it comes down to it, I might very be one of few teens who still feel connected to Holden Caulfield in this day and age, but that is fine with me. It makes the action of sympathizing with him more rebellious. I know that this novel changed me for the better in one way or another. It seemed to be the perfect book for me to read at such a crucial point in my life. While Holden was learning about “phonies” and the loss of innocence, I was learning to grow up and take charge of my life. And though I still feel that I’m not fully an adult, I am more sure of myself and confident about what I am going to do with my life. Without Holden Caulfield, I probably would have gotten to this point on my own, but through him, getting to this point in my life has meant more than I could have imagined.
Oh, and by the way, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is the song playing on the carousel. Just in case you were wondering.
As someone who hasn’t read The Catcher in the Rye before, I was slightly hesitant to write up a response to such a literary classic, but after perusing several synopses, and reading an excerpt or two, I found that it’s much more reader friendly than I had anticipated. Salinger is a prose legend for a reason. His style isn’t intimidating, and the plot, although specific to 1950’s, is quite intriguing. However, because this is a period piece, it begs the question: Can teens still relate?
On first instinct, wouldn’t you say Holden Caulfield and teens today are nothing alike? Holden went on the lam and got away with it. He dealt with prostitution and sex and money and all the evil vices of the world at the tender age of sixteen. What sixteen-year-old in their right mind gets expelled for academic failure and lives to face another day without serious consequences from parents and school systems alike? What sixteen-year-old survives by himself without having an Amber alert pulled out?
Without a shadow of a doubt, 21st century teens are facing unique circumstances versus those of the 1950’s, but is what Holden experiences that different from our own lives?
Personally, I feel like Holden’s journey into the world is extremely relatable. As someone who attends a private high school, it was easy to visualize the school rivalries Holden described in the first chapter. The constant demand to conform to their standards, and the watchful eyes of the teachers hit close to home from the very beginning. I felt like Holden and I could definitely sit down and have a chat about how ridiculous eighty percent of what we deal with on a day-to-day basis is. The odyssey that Holden takes us on is thrilling and explosive, but the blatant themes brought through his story are adages that will continue to entertain the human race for millennia to come.
Through a bit of soul-searching, I came up with what I felt the major similarities between Holden and teens today are, and comprised them into four categories: the purgatory that is growing up, the utter insanity that is the adult world, teenage relationships, and alienation for protection. For those of you who haven’t read yet, I won’t spoil it for you, but Holden experiences all of these things. Have you ever had someone ignore your text? Ever lock yourself in your room with some angsty music to get away from it all? Feel like school, and getting a job, and trying is sometimes a joke? See, you and Holden may have more in common than you think. If you can get past the fact that Holden’s shennanigans were a little more than half a century ago, and focus in on the deeper meaning, then teens today should have no problem connecting with this book!
For the comments: What do YOU think? Does Catcher in the Rye still resonate with today’s teens? Tell us!