On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Catcher in the Rye, columnist George F. Will wrote a denunciation of the book for teaching a generation to whine and pout. He railed further against Leonard Bernstein for investing his gangsters, in West Side Story, with Holden Caulfield like disaffection. Will also took a swipe at those critics who like the book for confusing self-absorption with sensitivity. Of course Will is a conservative columnist, not a literary critic, and his ire was probably fueled by his disdain for liberal baby boomers who came of age while embracing J.D. Salinger.
I'll admit, the first time I read the book, I missed how much pain Holden was in. I was beguiled by his talk of "phoniness" into thinking the novel was a social critique of jaded mid-twentieth century America. I didn't catch such paradoxes as Holden's professed dislike of Hollywood even though he is an avid moviegoer. I didn't notice that for all the epithets with which he peppers his narrative, he never uses sexual or scatalogical obscenities, and is appalled by the graffiti "fuck you" that he finds at his old grammar school . I didn't connect his deep mourning for his little brother Allie with his desire to protect all whom he perceives as innocent. In short, I was too much a part of the sixties zeitgeist to read apolitically.
I hope I don't have that problem any more. I fear that George Will still does.
Rye by Alexey Kondratyevich Savrasov; 1881. Click on the picture for a closer look.