My Ex Who Can’t Grow Up: Holden Caulfield

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all – I’m not saying that – but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.”

Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye 

15 year-old me: “Holden is my soulmate.”

23 year-old me: “Holden is a privileged, contemptible kid who needs a slap.”

I’m not one who views younger individuals as inherently less wise or older individuals as inherently enlightened. I’ve heard profound things come from the mouths of 5 year olds, and horrible advice come from my elders. I also recognize that as a 23 year old I am not quite young anymore or old, just yet. I’m somewhere in the middle.

As I’ve been packing my books up preparing to move out after my wedding, I’ve had the opportunity to flip through some books I haven’t even seen since I was in high school. One of them was The Catcher in the Rye. I read the first paragraph, vaguely remembering the content, and was astonished by just how annoying I found Holden. Essentially, No one understands me! Everyone hates me! I hate everyone and everything around me! The world is ending! My life is boring! 

I found my aggravation with Holden in the fact that I once found him admirable. I was a sophomore in high school the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye and Holden spoke to me on a personal, intimate level. He was misunderstood, just like me. He didn’t fit in, just like me. He felt tension with his parents, just like me. But now, at 23, Holden is annoying and needs to grow up.

I read a few chapters, put the book back in the box, locked the basement, and went back upstairs. It wasn’t until later that evening I asked myself a deeper question; a question about my educational development in light of the literature that influenced me. What have I read in the past, enjoyed in the past, that I would now read differently? And, how has what I enjoyed influenced me? Negatively? Positively?

I had the opposite experience with As I Lay Dying. In high school I found the novel incredibly confusing, boring, and slow. I read it last year as a college senior and found it moving and profound. “My mother is a fish.” 

Vardaman, I feel that.

Maybe we shouldn’t read books only once. It might sound juvenile, but perhaps re-reading some of the high school classics a few years later will illuminate aspects of the novels we missed. Am I saying The Catcher in the Rye is a bad book? No, absolutely not. Despite finding Holden annoying, I still enjoyed the work. I just gained a new perspective on the novel since the first time I opened the pages. Am I saying we should abandon new literature and solely focus on the books we’ve read in the past, dedicating our time to learning more about them? No, I’m not saying that either. It’s always beneficial as readers to keep up with new materials.

What I am saying, though, is to utilize our age to understand literature better.

17 thoughts on “My Ex Who Can’t Grow Up: Holden Caulfield

  1. I haven’t read this book yet, but it seems to be very polarizing precisely because of Holden Caulfield’s character. I wonder if JD Salinger intentionally wrote him to be immature, or whether he admires his own character like you admired him as a teen. I want to read this book and “Franny and Zooey” eventually, but there are so many damn books in my TBR pile! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really do think it was intentional. You should definitely read the book! It’s a pretty great classic, and honestly a quick read.

      And I totally understand what you’re saying about the TBR pile! The amount of books I buy to read is insane, especially when book stores have great sales!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have not! I really should check it out, especially since I suddenly have an interested in Salinger.


      2. My mom has both “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” on her shelf, I’ll probably try to read both of them this year. I should really read more classics, I mostly read contemporary fiction. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I read mostly classics, myself. I severely need to start reading more contemporary works. Do you have any recommendations? I just finished The Female Persuasion not too long ago as a part of Barnes and Noble’s book club.


      4. 1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
        2. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
        3. The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
        4. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
        5. The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
        6. Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
        7. Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
        8. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
        9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
        10. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
        11. In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
        12. Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
        13. Little Children by Tom Perrotta
        14. Room by Emma Donoghue
        15. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
        16. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
        17. This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
        18. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
        19. Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane
        20. God’s Own Country (Out Backwards) by Ross Raisin
        21. Electricity by Ray Robinson

        Now, some of these books are not EXTREMELY contemporary (some of them are from the 90’s,) but that would be a list of recommendations off the top of my head. 🙂


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