Holden Caulfield was Right. (Or was he just a douche?)

16 Aug

About ten years ago my husband interviewed a young man with an interesting tattoo on his forearm. In simple script it read,

“Holden Caulfield was right.”

I was in awe of this guy, and more than a little jealous. I wanted a tattoo that was so cool people would talk about it at dinner. But more than that, I wanted to believe in something so fiercely, to know it so deep in my bones that I’d be willing to have it inked on my skin forever. And if it came from a classic bit of literature? That would be, like, on another level.

Sadly (or possibly luckily), nothing ever jumped out.

Eventually I got over my delusions of being the coolest kid in the room because I had some deep, meaningful tattoo, but I never got over the fact that I didn’t know if Holden Caulfield was right or not. Hmmm. All those years as an English major and I’d never read Catcher in the Rye. Totally unacceptable.

While this realization stuck in my bookish little heart like a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil, it was also very quickly pushed aside, kicked to the back burner by T-ball practice, swim meets, “What’s for dinner?” and “Mom! I neeed a TOWEELL!”

And so the years passed. Swim meets have turned to track meets, dinner is what fits around marching band practice, and somehow my daughter is a freshman in high school. But I’ve never forgotten about the tattoo. Had that guy found a subtle way to give every established adult the finger, even as he sat before them interviewing for a job? Was he some kind of smart ass genius, or did he regret the whole thing and was just keeping his fingers crossed that he got the job so he could afford to have it removed? Only Holden Caulfield could tell me.

Interestingly, Fahrenheit 451 was assigned reading this summer for the incoming freshmen. It reminded me of all the gaping holes that were still in my literary education, that I still hadn’t read Catcher or Animal Farm or 1984. Or Fahrenheit 451. I guess we spent so much time on Shakespeare and Dickinson, not to mention that god awful novel where some kid dies of a broken leg (A Separate Peace by John Knowles), that we skipped the basics. And since I’d also turned forty this summer, making this right seemed a good way to mark the decade.

I cruised through Fahrenheit and liked it, though my favorite part was the interview with Bradbury at the end. Here’s just a taste:

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-Day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.” Censorship: Coda from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

What an ass-kicker! RAY BRADBURY FOR PRESIDENT! I haven’t heard it put so well since Neil Gaiman told the world that “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.”

But what of Hauldon Caulfield? Was he right, like the young man’s tattoo proclaimed? Does he deserve his iconic status as the angst-ridden teen, fighting for innocence and youth like some mop-topped, moping version of Peter Pan? Or was he, as my stepdad says, just a pretentious dick?

I still don’t know, but this time I intend to find out.

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7 Responses to “Holden Caulfield was Right. (Or was he just a douche?)”

  1. Andrew August 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Hauldon Caulfield was like the guys from “The Parking Lot Movie.” Bring on the righteous indignation.

  2. thefoolschair August 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Enter one in the DOUCHE column!

  3. Mom August 18, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    pretentious dick

  4. thefoolschair August 18, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    I’m sensing a trend…

  5. dazel January 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    He looked at the world as a (crushed idealist) cynic, and from within that perspective he was basically right about the world. That’s what I think. I guess I would say that his perspective was far too limited to be called absolutely correct yet many of the insights he had were true, and in some sense they were profound -particularly at the time.

    I don’t understand what good reason anyone would have for thinking he was a douche.
    Have you read the book yet?

    • thefoolschair January 16, 2012 at 8:23 am #

      Here’s the thing. I did read it, and I expected a lot more. Holden came off as a whiny little bitch. I just wanted him to STFU. Maybe it’s a generation thing, re: NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/weekinreview/21schuessler.html?partner=rss&emc=rss, and even though I sympathize to a point, I thought, in the end, he sucked.

      I’d rather hang out with this guy:http://www.theonion.com/articles/search-for-self-called-off-after-38-years,1794/ .

      • dazel January 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

        (expectations) A problem with reading any over-hyped classic I guess.

        It’s a book for me, most books aren’t for everyone.

        Actually – being sometimes cynical – when I read that NYT article and others like it I wondered whether or not the whole Catcher phenomenon wasn’t a mistake (as with many of Nirvana’s fans): the book became popular not because kids had a sympathy and understanding with the protagonist (and felt similar things themselves / the changes in society) but simply because he swore.

        “Goddammit!” Now we’re all rebels.


        Aren’t you touched by the passage, his dream to be the ‘catcher in the rye’, saving small children from their “fall”? And from a misreading of a lyric about sexuality too. Wow.

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