I recently finished reading The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. It was on my Grandpa’s Reading List. Sure enough, as Grandpa promised, I’m a better person for reading it.
It didn’t wow me the whole way through, or even as soon as I finished it, however, in my brief discussions of Catcher with my friend DB, I realized that there was a very important takeaway from the story.
I had 2 pages to go in the novel when I asked DB why she loved it so much. She said, “Because it speaks to the demoralized youth I still cling to. Because Holden’s perspective mirrors my own – in the grotesque violence, strangers, underage drinking, smoking too much and wandering through the museum.”
I didn’t have to ask her to continue, “Much in the same way the only thing that changes in the museum is you, while conversely I stay the same and the world keeps spinning without me – I am caught up in my memories. I embody the museum. I think we all do, especially people as sentimental about tiny details as I am.”
Clearly, DB knew the book. I read through the last two pages and asked her my burning question: Was Holden crazy?
“Well, mostly jaded and misunderstood – grieving for his brother who died, but back in the day they called that crazy.”
They called that crazy.
That phrase echoed in me.
Initially, I thought that I related to Holden because of our disdain for all things “phony” and what path that may lead us down:
“I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind…. It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college. Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, ‘It’s a secret between he and I.’ Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer.” ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 24
It’s a fine line to walk in accepting reality and fighting for your ideals, but it’s a line no one walks alone – even though some days it feels that way.
“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.” ~ J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 24
But, even through our shared disgust for the shallow, the fake and the insincere, I realized that Holden’s and my true connection is in our crazy.
It’s so easy for people to put each other in the “crazy” box, whether its Holden and his seemingly incurable sentiments of isolation,
“It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.” ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 1
or me and my desperate quest for connection. I have this brute-force-honestly-sans-internal-filter disorder. See, I know I CAN maintain an internal dialogue, it’s just most days I don’t bother with it. I will spew out strangely intimate details about myself to near strangers or blog and release them into boundless cyberspace. I’ll emotionally undress myself, stand naked in front of the world and wait for signs of acceptance. Some people consider me crazy.
Some days Most days, I agree with them.
I think the difference between my crazy and Holden’s crazy is our environment. When Holden talks crazy, people get uncomfortable – that’s why they want to lock him away, isolate him more. It wasn’t ok to say things like that back then. When I talk crazy, I am sure that some people think I need to be locked up, but many more are tolerant, if not grateful for me condoning their own internal crazy by expressing mine. More often than not it works as a stepping stone to deeper internal pools. Nowadays, people crave crazy – crave validation of their own internal neurosis.
If you boil a human being down, I think you find two essential elements: 1. The human need to be loved and 2. A unique code of crazy. When someone loves us enough to start cracking our crazy code – to step towards understanding us, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
It’s a shame Holden didn’t find acceptance. My heart goes out to him.
Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 26