Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Eternal Life of Holden Caulfield

Okay, since everyone is writing about J.D. Salinger, I have to as well.

Little known fact: The “J” stands for Jerome. Would anyone have read Catcher in the Rye if it had been written by Jerome Salinger? Sometimes it's all in a name.

But seriously, one thing that interests me is the literary legacy of Holden Caulfield. He’s like the strange alpha male of teen angst protagonists—characters just keep flowing and flowing from him as if he’s reproducing everywhere.

As Michiko Kakutani said in the Times, Catcher in the Rye is “a book that intimately articulates what it is to be young and sensitive and precociously existential.”

For one, consider the recent young adult novel King Dork, which is a ribald update of Catcher. How about James Dean in Rebel without a Cause. Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People. Heck, even Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Salinger nailed the Holden type—the kind of teen that, well, practically every teen identifies with in some way. Even jocks. Even phonies. Reading Catcher was—and perhaps still is—a rite of passage. The struggle between phoniness and authenticity is a lifelong challenge, and it sadly always will be.

Which is why that Holden crosses generations: He can be a punk rocker, a hippie, a drama nerd, a skateboarder, hell, a skinny kid holding an iPhone and texting.

So here’s the challenge: Name all of the characters in literature, in pulp fiction, in movies, in song, etc., that owe a debt to Holden Caulfield.

Think Jesse Eisenberg as Walt Berkman in the Squid and the Whale. Think Juno in Juno. Think Belle and Sebastian’s "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie."

In the meantime, join the phonies mourning J.D. Salinger. Salinger wouldn't have it any other way--would he?

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