Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bad Attitude

I've never really been one for negativity, barring that one 3-day goth-punk misadventure that occurred in the fifth grade (don't worry, I'm okay now).

Remembering to look on the brighter side is as familiar a concept to me as looking both ways before crossing the street, and when I do reach the other side of the road, I can be assured that my neighbor's lawn is no greener than mine. I always make sure to put on a smile, at the same time I'm putting on my shoes, because I know I wouldn't be fully dressed without either of them. And if anyone tries to rain on my parade, I simply wipe the fog off my rose-colored glasses, keep an eye out for the 9th cloud, and look for the silver lining in the forecast, because I know that, regardless of the weather, the sun will come out tomorrow.

And if all of those terrible cliches can't convince you of my optimism, then here's the proof: I've made it through J.D.Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye for the second time through, and have yet to get a tattoo, a new Tumblr account (in fact, I actually deleted mine!), or a sweet black electric guitar for my all new indie-grunge one-woman-show. Nor have I heard strange voices or attempted any homicides, but those are a little less likely reactions to the apathetic - as well as oftentimes straight-up pathetic - whining present in the novel.

The Catcher in the Rye is told from the viewpoint of 16-year-old East Coast flunkie Holden Caulfield, as he wanders around NYC for three days, to avoid having to tell his parents that he has been kicked out of yet another prestigious prep school. Over the course of the novel, he hires a prostitute - just so he can find someone to talk to - hits on a couple of middle-aged women in a nightclub, ostracizes himself from past friends, and basically takes part in drunken, dissolute behavior over the course of 277 pages.

Did I mention the book was published in 1951?

If I sound condemnatory, I don't mean to. It's easy to criticize this book; in fact, people have been doing it ever since the book was published over 60 years ago. Simultaneously the most-banned and most-read book in high schools across America, Catcher has always had the shadow of offended school boards and all-too-chaste parents hanging over it. People blame it for the suicide of Kurt Cobain, as well as for the homicide (actually, is it more appropriate to say assassination?) of John Lennon. It's really, really easy for people not to like this book, even by looking at the structure of the novel itself: there basically is none. No great lesson-learned at the end, he doesn't die or anything. Nothing happens. And the narration style is considered to be less-than-ideal as well. It sounds simply like you're having a conversation with a teenage boy in a retro time loop.

The thing is, that is my favorite thing about the novel. The fact that, even though the book was written in 1951, even though Holden's nightclubs involved trumpets, jitterbugging, and famous piano players, even though his world involves so much of what is antiquated and obsolete to us, you can still look at Holden, and see a teenage boy. While his surroundings may have changed drastically, he, himself is a universal: who hasn't felt like the world he was living in is superficial and shallow, like he is alone and under-appreciated, like his glory has yet to come? Readers may choose to condemn his frequent expletive-laced language and juvenile tone, but it just makes Holden that much more relatable and recognizable as a kid.

Furthermore, while nothing really happens over the course of the novel, maybe its enduring popularity and praise owes a little to those same feelings that he exhibited with such reality: it's enough just to be with someone who understands you, to be a little less lonely, for a little while. Angst-filled teenage readers have found a friend in Holden for this long, not because he undergoes this magical attitude-transformation, where he finds out he's a wizard and saves the princess from the tower and solves the whodunit mystery while nabbing the dastardly trainrobbers, but because he was someone, who thought like them, and sometimes, it's just nice to be with someone who understands. Like Holden.

So, while I don't feel the need to stage some kind of a demonstration in Red Square or set fire to anything anytime soon, I can't really say I got out of The Catcher in the Rye unchanged. It gives me a new appreciation for those other people crossing the street, those whose sun isn't as determined to shine as mine is. Those people who are just looking for other people like them, like I am.

(to check out my College Fashion post inspired by The Catcher in the Rye style, go here: )

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