Thursday, February 11, 2010

Privilege begat the spoiled brat.

The Catcher in the RyeI recall hating every moment of being inside of Holden Caufield's psyche.

The now deceased J.D. Salinger's classic novel was required high school reading and I hated turning every page of it. I couldn't understand for the life of me how someone could be so pessimistic; so down on himself and the world around him.

After Salinger's recent passing, the New York Times asked the question, "Does 'Catcher in the Rye' resonate with teenagers today? Does the Holden Caulfield version of alienation speak to a generation connected on Facebook?"

My guess? It probably does. The same kinds of kids who completely identified with the protagonist when I read it ten years ago, are probably the same kinds of kids who I identify with it now - no matter how touched by technology their lives are.

Among the varied responses to the Times' article, one high school English teacher Patrick Welsh relates his students' reactions to the novel: "Others say Holden is a whiner, a rich spoiled brat who ought to shut up and get on with his life." Ding! Ding! Ding! That was me.  

I was the kid who was taught to count her blessings and say Thank You Jesus for waking me up this morning and starting me on my way... everyday. So I couldn't relate to the depression, angst and cynicism bred from a life of privilege, that my classmates knew all to well. Instead, I recognized my privilege to sit in that classroom and read that book, and so despite hating it, I'm sure I got an A on that test. That was how I said Thank you Mommy and Daddy for spending more money than you have on my education.

It seemed all too often that many of my peers lacked that self awareness. And that lack of self awareness somehow led to a lack of self confidence and esteem. The effect? Being 16 and 17 years old surrounded by young ladies plagued with suicide attempts, eating disorders, depression and drug/alcohol abuse. The number of girls in my school who dealt with such serious issues as children always amazed me.

It is true that I don't know what went on in their homes that truly led them to that place. But what I do know is what went on in my home that kept me away from that place. I had an understanding of myself within the context of my family, my faith, and my history. All of which I learned as a small child. So by the time I hit my teen years amongst this population that identified so closely with Caufield, I couldn't do anything but feel like everybody just needed to go sit in a corner somewhere and count their blessings.

Indeed, Salinger's work is a classic, but I'm hoping maybe one day I'll write a new classic. One which reflects one of my dad's favorite sayings: That children need to know WHO and WHOSE they are.

What about you? Do you identify with Holden Caufield or do you want to write a new teen classic that's a bit more optimistic or understanding?


Stan said...

I guess I liked ACITR so much when I read it because I thought it was funny. Now that I think about it, I pretty much had the same feelings about the character and his escapades as you, and I was in the same high school situation as you were in back in the day. My school had 50 total AA's in a body of 750 students, @ a private, jesuit school. In the early '70's that was unheard of for a kid from my neighborhood. It was just plain funny to me that folk acted that way who had everything. How folk had so much and took everything for granted.

You never cease to Amaze me, Young Woman! God Bless You and Your Bright Future!

Erika said...

Great post, Sydnie! I never identified much with the character of Holden Caulfield when I read that book either, but I had always chalked it up to his being male; I tended to identify more strongly with female protagonists. I, too, attended a private school where my classmates were much better off financially than I was (the rival to your school, in fact!), and while I certainly had my share of teen angst and self-doubt, I still didn't get Caulfield, nor did I get what was so fabulous about Catcher. After Salinger's passing I thought that maybe I should give the book another try, and see if I could understand better what was so great about it, now that I am a grown-up. I do still plan to re-read it, but I am not in any hurry to do so. Again, great post! (Ms. Eason)

Sydnie said...

@Stan I guess it is funny that people who have so much take it for granted. But then again it's kind of sad. I've often thought about the conundrum in which parents provide more for their kids than what they had themselves growing up or maybe just because they want to lavish their children - but the children don't recognize the blessing. If you have a lot of material wealth, are you supposed to hide it from your kids so they learn the value of it?

@Erika I never even considered that I didn't identify with the protagonist because he was male, but that probably also contributed to my thinking. I commend you for wanting to give the novel second try, but I'm saving my re-reads for the books that I know for certain won't piss me off. (I get really emotional when I read if you haven't noticed, lol.)

Stan said...

@Sydnie-No, I don't think you should hide your wealth from your offspring. They can look around them and see where they live, how they live, what school they go to and what material things they have been given to get a good idea of their parents worth. The key is, to teach your children from an early age that just because I worked hard and have a lot, doesn't mean you can be a slacker. You teach that lesson by making children work for what they get, remind them that money doesn't grow on trees, someone actually has to go out and work for it and last but not least, literally show them that as a parent, this is MY wealth, not yours. You still have yours to make, but because I love you and it's my job to, I ALLOW you to live in my house, eat my food, wear my clothes that I buy for you, sleep in my bed and bedroom that I provide and enjoy my shelter, heat and A/C, all of which cost a lot of MY money. Eventually, children get the picture.

daniel john said...

It was just plain funny to me that folk acted that way who had everything.They can look around them and see where they live.
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Courtney said...

Great post syd! I am actually very glad that I never had CITR as required reading, although I was nerdy enough to read it. Discussing that book in an international school setting with predominantly oil-rich kids would have definitely brought out the 'angry black woman' in I actually read it after watching the movie 'Conspiracy Theory' in which Mel Gibson's crazy character is obsessed with buying copies of the book. I remember putting it down and wondering what the big deal was. Still wondering.


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