Monday, July 16, 2012

The Catcher In the Rye, J.D. Salinger 1951

“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

When his ten-year-old sister Phoebe asked Holden Caulfield what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said the catcher in the rye. He had this idealistic view of the innocence of children, and desperately wanted to save them from the harsh realities of adulthood:  hypocrisy, deceit, pain.

This story is told from the perspective of a quirky young man struggling to find his place in a society more apt to reward conformity and condemn individuality. We see that he is both intelligent and expressive, and yet he fails to apply himself, getting kicked out of school after school. He begins the narrative by looking back, to a day when he tried to feel “some kind of a good-bye”. We soon realize that he is on the edge of that cliff himself, about to fall from the innocence of childhood into the ugliness of the real world. He wants so badly to fit in somewhere, to make friends and be part of something wonderful, and yet when he gets close to finding that he pushes everyone away.

Soon after it was released by Little, Brown and Company (on this date in 1951), it generated a lot of criticism for it’s profanity and discussions of sexuality. J.D. Salinger intended it to be a novel for adults, and yet it has profoundly impacted adolescents, and influenced several other works of fiction.

This notion of losing the innocence of childhood reminded me of a little known movie (one of my all-time favorites) called Wide Awake* (1998). It was actually written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, although it’s nothing like the movies he’s most famous for (The Sixth Sense being another favorite of mine). Instead, it’s a coming-of-age story, about a young boy in Catholic school who is trying to find a way to talk to God; he wants to ask how his grandfather is doing.

In one of my favorite scenes, near the end, he reads a speech he’s written. It sums up the movie in a profound yet adorable way. “Fifth grade is the most rigorous and toughest year yet. Before this year, everything was Batman action figures and Ninja Turtle cartoons. Now there’s family, friends, and – girls. Before this year, bullies were just bullies for no reason, weirdoes were just weird, and daredevils weren’t afraid of anything. Before this year, people I loved lived forever. I spent this year looking for something, and wound up seeing everything around me. It’s like I was asleep before, and I finally woke up. Know what? I’m wide awake now.”

I have to admit, I cry every time I watch it. It has some really funny scenes, does an excellent job of illustrating life lessons, and really makes you stop and think about losing the “magic” of childhood. I recommend it with 4/4 stars. And as for The Catcher in the Rye, if you can get past the profanity, I would say 2.5/4.

*this link will take you to the IMDb page where you can watch the trailer

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