Reading: Understanding versus Relating, and a Changing Society

Disclaimer: This post, as an extension of The Catcher in the Rye reading done within class, will be done as a response to the Get a Life, Holden Caulfield piece published within the New York Times. (Seen, here.) Not only will it be done in the style of “skaz” writing, but will include a lot of information regarding the article. Before reading this, I suggest checking it out! Thank you.

Holden… isn’t relatable anymore. At least, not like he used to be. I mean, it’s as simple as that, right? You can take a look at Schuessler’s arguments. Most of them had a ton of good points. Lots of it related to “Oh the times have changed” with some really solid evidence when you take it all in.

The book was written for a 1950s audience. Literally. This was because J.D. Salinger just didn’t have any telepathic ability to put it in any other time period. So, taking that in, what Salinger showed just doesn’t.. connect to the modern person as much. Time changes a lot. So, it’s a 1950s book that won’t fit in good ol’ 2017.

Take Holden’s habits for example. He’s a wild kid that goes out drinking, as a minor, and smokes like he’ll die without it. Even though, that’s kind of the opposite effect. But that’s james_dean-cigarette-fullanother thing. And though maybe those behaviors were more common to see back in the 1950s, I couldn’t name a single kid now that’s like that. I can’t even think of a kid that doesn’t absolutely get disgusted by the smell of smoke and feels like they’ll die in 3 seconds from being around it. Or that’s just me. But the loss is still there, the regular teenager isn’t going to connect to the dead image of a “rebellious cool kid” that started to climb into focus at the time. And I’ll take a guess that that kind of audience loved Holden. But if I had to take a stab at that ideas legacy, I think that whole trend died in the 80s or 90s. Don’t quote me on that, though.

As well, the most fundamental things about Holden don’t connect to teens these days either. Like, the monumental loss of your sibling? Really harsh, and thankfully really not common!

And other big parts, like Holden’s ever discussed anxieties?  In the best way I can put it… it seems like a different brand than what is expected today. Not a cheap generic brand, but different.Which, maybe that’s on our part again, but about every cultural change is on “our” part. Anyway… these days anxiety almost seems different. I’ll bet a lot of people didn’t even really notice Holden’s problems in that 23388685185_86e3cfbf32_barea just because they didn’t recognize them as anxiety symptoms. They just blamed it on him being a whiny kid and all. It’s hard to explain, but people’s idea of “anxiety” as this giant, obvious, mega-big thing probably kept them from seeing it. Or maybe we just aren’t putting enough focus on it these days.  Either way, there goes that piece of relatability, too. Which is a bit sad, because that could be a really impactful part due to the greater relevance and understanding of teen depression and anxiety these days.

So the problem isn’t J.D. Salinger’s writing, you know. It’s just that time doesn’t connect all the time. Excuse the repetition. But the book, due to it’s writing, is now more of an appeal to nostalgic adults. Are kids really going through all of Holden’s issues, or is it adults that went through the time… or heard it from grandparents that went through it? Schuessler talks about teachers that reread the book and love it and kids that groan and whine when they have to. So.. isn’t it obvious where the gap lies?

dolores_park_benchHolden is undoubtedly a sad kid with a story to tell it. In no way is he super unrelatable either, but it’s still pretty hard to put yourself exactly where he is. There’s parts, but it’s not a role you can say “Oh yeah, I’ve been there too, dude! This is like, my life!” to. Issues have been just changed and molded, impacting but not impacting. But that’s not all bad, really. You don’t need to be exactly like the audience to leave an impact…you just have to be understandable and all. Maybe it expands an audiences view, maybe it puts them in someone else’s shoes. But, I don’t know what everyone thinks. And I think that’s important to realize, too. This is based on a lot of generalization and “average person” kind of stuff. You might be reading this and relate to Holden and disagree with everything I’m saying. And hey, that’s pretty cool.

So, to J.D. Salinger, I have no hard feelings. As an author, he tried his best and made a pretty good book. It’s just one that…evolves past it’s audiences to me. It jumps to who it jumps to, even if it’s not to an audience that is expected to relate. And that’s actually okay.

Thank you!


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