Gerald Brenan once said, ÃÂThe only test of a work of literature is that it shall please other ages than its own,ÃÂ meaning the book or writing is timeless. J.D. Salinger captures this essential element in his novel Catcher in the Rye. The main character, Holden Caulfield, dislikes school, and, like any teenage boy, loves girls. Just like today, most teenagers have this attitude towards school and, of course, towards the opposite gender. I believe Catcher in the Rye, even though it was written about sixty years ago, is relevant to issues of teens today and how teens act. It explores and goes into depth the average teenager, like Holden Caulfield, who dislikes school and working, constantly makes up stories and lies, and who wants to have the freedoms and rewards of being an adult, but either lack or donÃÂt want the maturity and responsibility, therefore acting like a child.
The first issue Salinger sheds light on to is how Holden severely dislikes working for anything and how he hates his school. Holden said while talking about Pencey Prep., ÃÂThey donÃÂt do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school. And I didnÃÂt know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all. Maybe two guys. If that many. And they probably came to Pencey that way,ÃÂ (Salinger 4). He thought little of his school and, therefore, didnÃÂt care about it. He commented that ÃÂthey gave me frequent warning to start applying myself-especially around mid-terms when my parents came up for a conference with old Thurmer-but I didnÃÂt do it. So I got the ax,ÃÂ (6). He was flunking four subjects because he wasnÃÂt even trying and ended up getting the boot from Pencey. Teenagers today are still like this. Almost every teenager likes to have a good time. Sadly, some of these teens donÃÂt care about anything but having a good time. School is at, or close to, the bottom of their priority lists and itÃÂs more important to be accepted by friends than by a college. Holden didnÃÂt have a job because he was too lazy to work, but still has pockets full of cash. He confessed that he had ÃÂthis grandmother thatÃÂs quite lavish with her dough. She doesnÃÂt have all her marbles anymore-sheÃÂs old as hell-and she keeps sending me money for my birthday about four times a year,ÃÂ (67). His grandmotherÃÂs mistake allowed him to get by without any responsibility. Holden is a symbol for all of the high school drop outs that made their own rules. He doesnÃÂt follow the crowd, but creates his own path that stays on the border of being a child and adult and follows it. Unfortunately, the path he created didnÃÂt lead him anywhere except to disappointment, and he was forced to find a new one. Many high school drop outs also take this path because, like Holden, they didnÃÂt enjoy school and were indolent. Holden even tried justifying his actions with himself and others around him.
Teens are constantly making up stories or excuses that are sometimes believable, but are also sometimes ridiculously untrue. Holden openly admitted that he was ÃÂthe most terrific liar you ever saw in your life,ÃÂ (22). Several times he lied to please another person or sometimes to get out of sticky situations. While speaking with his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, he grew tired of speaking with him and told him he had to go to the gym to get his equipment. He later disclosed to the reader, ÃÂThat was a sheer lie,ÃÂ (22). Also on the train, Holden met a classmateÃÂs mother. An uncomfortable situation came up when she asked why he was already off for Christmas vacation. He cleverly answered her saying he had to have an operation on a ÃÂtiny little tumor on the brain,ÃÂ (75) instead of telling her he was kicked out of Pencey. Once Holden even told a group of women his name was Jim Steele for kicks. For many teens, it is as easy to lie as it is to blink. Holden had to preoccupy himself ÃÂjust to stop lying,ÃÂ (76). He said, ÃÂOnce I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours,ÃÂ (76). The one thing Holden never lied about was his age and he was asked frequently about it, too. He never said his real age throughout the book, but he never told anyone he was a certain age so it would allow him to do something. I think this represents him and how he lies so much that the real Holden is a mystery. Lying is extremely easy and because Holden and other teens, including his friend Ackley who constantly lied about his past girlfriends, lie so much, they donÃÂt know which life to hold onto and what life to let go of, the real one or the fantasy.
Teenagers, in general, want to have the freedoms and rewards of being an adult, but either lack or donÃÂt want the maturity and responsibility, therefore acting like a child. I think that Holden wants to be an adult, but at the same time wants to stay a child. A representation of this state of mind Holden is in is The Museum of Natural History. He explained, ÃÂThe best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. NobodyÃÂd moveÃÂ NobodyÃÂd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you,ÃÂ (158). The museum represents the world Holden wishes he could live in: a world where nothing ever changes, where everything is simple and understandable. Many teenagers are in this dilemma, too, where they canÃÂt decide if they want to grow up yet. Holden visits PhoebesÃÂ school at one pint and he sees curse words written over the walls of the hallways. He hates this and wants to be the Catcher in the Rye, wants to catch the children before they fall out of the innocence of being a child into the knowledge of the adult world meaning finding out what this dirty word means. He wants to delay the process of maturing for them because he doesnÃÂt want to grow up either. On the other hand, Holden speaks like he knows everything about women and about the world. He is constantly trying to pick up girls and is always trying to get his hands on liquor and cigarettes. He talks about a blond-haired woman like he has been with a thousand girls like her saying, ÃÂShe was one of the best dancers I have ever danced with. IÃÂm not kidding. Some of these very stupid girls can really knock you out on a dance floor. You take a really smart girl, and half the time sheÃÂs trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else sheÃÂs such a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the table and just get drunk with her,ÃÂ (92). He speaks like he has so many years of experience with these ÃÂtypesÃÂ. In the end, I believe he is just trying to put off the responsibilities of adulthood, but wants the material advantages of being a man.
I believe Catcher in the Rye, even though it was written about sixty years ago, is relevant to issues of teens today and how teens act. It explores and goes into depth the average teenager, like Holden Caulfield, who dislikes school and working, constantly makes up stories and lies, and who wants to have the freedoms and rewards of being an adult, but either lacks or doesnÃÂt want the maturity and responsibility, therefore acting like a child. Growing up can be scary, but eventually everyone is going to have to. Holden was having major problems and was trying to hide them by dropping out of school, smoking, drinking, and hooking up with older women. If he were to take the process of maturing step-by-step, then he would evolve from a confused boy into a mature man who is responsible and successful.
Works CitedSalinger, J.D. "Catcher in the Rye."