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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.

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