Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Perspective : Catcher in the Rye

We’re a bit of a strange group, we Shakespeare geeks.  We voluntarily seek out and read things that, were we teenagers, our teachers would have had to force us to read, giving us quizzes at every breaking point and asking us all about themes and symbolism.
So having just read Catcher in the Rye 25 odd years after I should have, with no teachers to tell me what it’s about, I find that my perspective has changed. I didn’t love it.  I think it’s a good book, and I can see that it’s trying to tell me … something.  But I’m not sure I fully grasp what.  And, 25 years after the fact, I’m not sure that I can.
Does that make sense?  We’ve often talked about approaches to teaching Shakespeare, and the difference between getting the kids to love it versus telling them to just shut up and do it. But I think there’s a big gap in between those two that isn’t served by that sort of black and white approach. Namely, do you understand it? Do you have questions, do you need help? Most importantly, what does the material mean to you?
As a 40yr old father of 3, Catcher in the Rye to me is an unrealistic, dated story about an annoying 12yr old who has some pretty hefty psych issues, very likely depression and possibly some form of attention deficit disorder.  I didn’t bond with the title character in any way.   I didn’t sympathize with him.  I didn’t get him.
I wonder which is more at fault, the fact that it’s no longer as relevant to me? Or the fact that I didn’t have somebody spoonfeeding it to me?
re: the Shakespeare connection, by the way, we’ll do another post on that one.  I’m not willing to accept that Hamlet gets credit for every angst-ridden teenager with parent issues, unless we want to go all Bloomy and just say that Shakespeare invented the human.


Ren du Braque said...

He's 16 and he has gray hair--a sign a precocious maturation. Hamlet is 18 or so, but then again the gravedigger implies he's thirty...

Perhaps the novel is so visceral that it is incomprehensible. In other words if you don't identify with the character it's hard to peek beneath the style, the themes, the artifice of the author. I'd like to suggest that identifying with the character is only one way to read it. I have read C. twice. Once at 21 and then again at 45. I see now that at 21, I missed more than half the novel, because I identified so closely with the character that I lost my PERSPECTIVE. A year ago at a book club, we discussed C. Many readers had your reaction. Holden is an obsessive whiny ... Salinger was a ... They didn't get nearly all of the book because they didn't identify with the character.

I believe your question about perspective is a question about reading. If you are going to approach a great work (This is a great work) you have to read it or examine it at least twice. You'll have to read it making serious mistakes but hopefully from different PERSPECTIVES. Catcher and Hamlet are great because in order to get it you have to make many mistakes... Once you tally them up, maybe you'll have an aha moment and say, OH that's what this thing is about! The two mistakes are identifying too closely with and distancing oneself too far from the subjective point of view of the protagonist. Hamlet (and Holden) are great AND flawed. That's tragedy in a nutshell.

My objective here is not to make you love this book. If you didn't like it, then it didn't speak to you... In my case, Hamlet and Holden are so similar that understanding one aids my understanding of the other.

But in any event, this is really best enjoyed at your own pace and without others help... when you see something, that's pure pleasure, you can try to share it and you can make yourself look really ridiculous when it doesn't work out... that's part of the fun enjoyed by this strange group, no?

Stacie said...

Hehe. It wasn't until I actually started talking to people about Shakespeare in the academic/college world that I discovered the animosity toward Bloom and I still find it kind of funny.

Anyway, I wouldn't really give "credit" for Holden to Hamlet, but, allegedly, Holden is Hamlet's more modern descendant, blah blah blah. I didn't necessarily see it, but some insist it's there.

Having already passed that finding-who-you-are stage, though, it might not be relevant to you. I, personally, adored Holden and his insecurity and wavering insanity (and whatever other issues). BUT, I was 18 and a freshman in college when I read it, so I had a lot of exploring and finding myself to do--and, three years later, I'm still doing it. I also really enjoyed deconstructing it from the psychological side.
So, basically, it might just be out of your range. Not something I'd worry about. ;)

Elizabeth R said...

I read Catcher in the Rye of my own volition (not required by class) when I was in high school. I hated it. The book seemed to have no point to me.

It arguably was relevant to me, at least on a "I'm a teenager, too" level, but I still didn't enjoy it at all.