The author J.D. Salinger (1919-2010), who wrote The Catcher in the Rye in the 1940s, passed away recently.
The previous blog (dated 20 Aug 2010) covered the friendship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, two very well-known American authors. It happened that Salinger met Hemingway during the World War II campaign from Normandy into Germany. While Salinger was impressed with Hemingway's friendliness and modesty, which contrasted with his masculine image in the public, it was Fitzgerald that he deeply admired. In the words of the main character in The Catcher, Holden Caulfield, he was "crazy about" Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
Depicting youth alienation and rebellion, The Catcher has been praised as the authentic voice of every teenager even to this day. In the book, Holden the teenager pictured himself "on the edge of some crazy cliff", watching thousands of kids playing in a field of rye. "What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff." That is, to be a catcher in the rye. To him, falling off the cliff would mean entering adulthood and losing innocence, spontaneity and generosity.
Figure 1 Salinger with his elder sister Doris, 1920
The book is at its most moving towards the end. Expelled from an elite school near New York City for poor grades and finding little consolation from teachers and friends, Holden decided to move out west. He told his 10-year old sister Phoebe his plan. She brought along a suitcase with her clothes in and wanted to go with him. He refused, and she was upset and wouldn't talk to him. She then ran across the street and started walking on the other side of the street as he headed towards the Central Park Zoo.
She followed him into the zoo, and stopped to watch the sea lions. Holden put his hands on her shoulders. Without a word she bent her knees and slid out from him. She continued to walk on one side of the sidewalk while he walked on the other as they passed the bears.
They then left the zoo and went through a small tunnel. They were closer to each other now and Holden took hold of the belt at the back of her coat. "Keep your hands to yourself, if you don't mind," she broke the silence, still sore at him, but not as much as before.
As they got closer to the carrousel in the park they started to hear the music --- the same old song that had been played since they were tiny kids. There she rode her favourite horse, said to him. "I'm not mad at you any more", and gave him a kiss. Then it started to rain. She drew out the red hunting hat he gave her earlier on, and put it on his head.
"Don't you want it ?" he asked.
"You can wear it a while."
With this, Phoebe became the catcher and he the fallen. He decided to go home.
a) The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, Little, Brown and Co. (1991).