Tuesday, March 3

Go West, Young Man.

Another question about Catcher in the Rye, is why did the book group facilitator (an emeritus professor of literature) choose this book as part of a series on American Character?

On one level, the answer is trivial. Holden Caufield is considered a quintessential American Character. A teen, 50's, boarding school, all popular topics. Many people know of Holden even if they haven't read the book. But is that the reason enough to include it in the list?

I suspect there's a bit more than that. I don't think it's an accident that Holden ends up in a psych ward in California. Just like Huck Finn & Jim, just like Jack Burden in All the King's Men, he doesn't fit in civilization and looks West for salvation and a place to call home. We never know if Huck and Jim make it. Jack lies around Long Beach, creates his own god -- The Great Twitch -- and goes back East where he belongs. Holden? What has California to offer him? What he needs is family, connections, support --- as well as professional psychological help. All he wants to do is save kids, but who will save him? California does have his brother, but only for an occasional visit. It doesn't have his sister Phoebe who probably needs Holden by now as much as he needs her. California implies that Holden is the problem and he can get fixed in isolation. California for therapy, chosen by his parents. How is it different from Holden's plan to run away to California, get a job pumping gas and pretend to be a deaf-mute?

Did Salinger mean to allude to Twain? Or is it just burned into the American psyche to look West to follow your dreams. Are we all a bunch of misfits out here?

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