To begin with, there was that voice. Like no other voice you ever heard. Authentic, real, genuine, immediate.
Mark Twain, when he wrote Huckleberry Finn, might have sounded like that to contemporary readers and of course that novel is wonderful, but there is something about the Salinger voice that is special.
J.D. Salinger was Holden Caulfield.
All novels are autobiographical. They have to be. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of the trauma that Salinger suffered in World War II and on some level it is a healing of that trauma.
J.D. Salinger landed in Normandy on D Day, he was in the battle of the Hürtgen Forest and in the battle of the Bulge and when all of that was over, he was one of the first people in the camps at the end of the war. He had experienced World War II as intensely as anyone and when it was all over he went into a mental hospital in Nuremberg.
Just after this experience, he wrote a story called I’m Crazy featuring Holden Caulfield that was published by Collier’s on 22 December 1945.
Salinger carried the first six chapters of The Catcher in the Rye with him throughout the war.
Old Phoebe didn’t even wake up. When the light was on and all, I sort of looked at her for a while. She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. She had her mouth way open. It’s funny. You take adults, they look lousy when they’re asleep and have their mouths way open, but kids don’t. Kids look all right. They can even have spit all over the pillow and they still look all right.
If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more.
Some day, Joyce, there will be a story you will want to tell for no better reason than because it matters to you more than any other. You’ll give up this business of delivering what everybody tells you to do. You’ll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re keeping everybody happy, and you’ll simply write what’s real and true. Honest writing always makes people nervous, and they’ll think of all kinds of ways to make your life hell. One day a long time from now you’ll cease to care anymore whom you please or what anybody has to say about you. That’s when you’ll finally produce the work you’re capable of.
My gosh, if I’d just read about one-tenth of what that woman’s read and forgotten, I’d be happy. I mean she’s taught, she’s worked on a newspaper, she designs her own clothes, she does every single bit of her own housework.
There isn’t any nightclub in the world you can sit in for a long time unless you can at least buy some liquor and get drunk. Or unless you’re with some girl that knocks you out.
I think if you don’t really like a girl, you shouldn’t horse around with her at all, and if you do like her, then you’re supposed to like her face, and if you like her face, you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff to it, like squirting water all over it. It’s really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes.
I remember wanting to do something about that enormous-faced wristwatch she was wearing — perhaps suggest that she try wearing it around her waist.
Tell everybody when you love somebody, and how much.
For joy, apparently, it was all Franny could do to hold the phone, even with both hands.
Charlotte once ran away from me, outside the studio, and I grabbed her dress to stop her, to keep her near me. A yellow cotton dress I loved because it was too long for her.
I don’t really deeply feel that anyone needs an airtight reason for quoting from the works of writers he loves, but it’s always nice, I’ll grant you, if he has one.
The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all. John Updike
The Catcher in the Rye has been called one of the “three perfect books” in American literature, along with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby.
Adam Gopnik writes that “no book has ever captured a city better than Catcher in the Rye captured New York in the fifties.”
Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. It was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.
A deer hunter hat? Like hell it is. I sort of closed one eye like I was taking aim at it. This is a people shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat. Catcher in the Rye
Assassins have seen The Catcher in the Rye as some sort of instruction manual, including Robert John Bardo who murdered Rebecca Schaeffer, John Hinckley, Jr. and Mark David Chapman, who was arrested with a copy of the book that he had purchased that day, inside which he had written, “To Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement”.
Arthur Bremer who shot George Wallace had a copy of Catcher in the Rye in his apartment.
In March, 1972, Bremer attended a George Wallace campaign meeting at Milwaukee’s Red Carpet Airport Inn. At the end of the evening Bremer picked up a bundle of posters, bumper stickers and a Wallace lapel button. Over the next few days he began pasting posters on the lamposts in Milwaukee.
On 15th May, 1972, Bremer tried to assassinate George Wallace at a presidential campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland. He shot Wallace four times.
Richard Nixon told Charles Colson that he was concerned that Bremer “might have ties to the Republican Party or, even worse, the President’s re-election committee”. Nixon also asked Colson to find a way of blaming George McGovern for the shooting.
Colson phoned E. Howard Hunt and asked him to break-in to Bremer’s apartment to discover if he had any documents that linked him to Nixon or George McGovern.
In May, 1974, Martha Mitchell visited George Wallace in Montgomery. She told him that her husband, John N. Mitchell, had confessed that Charles Colson had a meeting with Arthur Bremer four days before the assassination attempt.
Arthur Bremer was the inspiration for Travis Bickle, the character Robert DeNiro played in Taxi Driver, which also starred a young Jodie Foster.
Which brings us to another Catcher in the Rye reader, John Hinckley, Jr.
“‘Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause’… ‘Of course, she doesn’t deserve to be alive,’…” Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov overhears this in a bar and it seems to give him more of a reason to commit the crime because he knew that he was not the only one considering it.
But how did I murder her? Is that how men do murders? Do men go to commit a murder as I went then? I will tell you some day how I went! Did I murder the old woman? I murdered myself, not her! I crushed myself once for all, for ever.… But it was the devil that killed that old woman, not I. Enough, enough, Sonia, enough! Let me be! Crime and Punishment
When reason fails, the devil helps. Dostoevsky
“Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss.” Albert Einstein
The fact is that Holden didn’t shoot anyone.
Despite his moral paralysis and perception of phoniness, he received a kind of redemption at the end of The Catcher in the Rye when he and his sister Phoebe made plans to go west, to ‘light out for the Territory,’ as Huckleberry Finn put it.
See you next week?