Welcome to another in a long uninterrupted chain of glorious Mondays. It was truly a pleasure, a distinct honor, and a privilege to be alive and in class today.
Actually, today’s class was pretty important stuff. First, book reports were due today and we had a lot of students report back to us about books they had enjoyed reading over the past two weeks. There was a wide variety of books, including recent bestsellers, inspirational stories about troubled youths meeting troubled horses, the usual good and evil vampires, and even a book from the Left Behind series. I put in my plug this week for George Orwell. Some students have been reading Animal Farm, so I encouraged them to go the next level with 1984, one of my favorite books of all time.
After that, we finished reading The Catcher in the Rye. The end of this novel made so much more sense to me reading it this semester than it ever has before. I mean, I got a lot of the emotional content before, but I never really identified how Holden’s attitude and outlook shifts in the last 10 pages. In the matter of a few pages, he goes from depressed and death-obsessed to ecstatically joyful. And the shift happens when he formally gives up his role as “catcher,” deciding that you just can’t tell kids not to fall, that telling them about falling will only make it worse, or increase the danger of them falling.
Now, I don’t think anyone would argue that this book has a traditionally “happy” ending. The actual image that cheers him up so much isn’t entirely encouraging: He watches Phoebe spinning around and around on the carousel. He must know that soon the carousel will stop, Phoebe will have to go back to school, and he’ll have to go home and face grown-up consequences. The text also makes clear that Phoebe is on the verge of being too old for the carousel and that she herself is yearning toward the kind of growing up Holden is doing. Holden may remember feeling ecstatic in that moment, but the rain that appears again for the first time in the book since Holden described Allie’s grave site certainly endows the scene with a profound sense of mourning.
Now, I don’t want to cheapen the book by calling it a simple story of loss and mourning. After all, the longing Holden feels to make connections with people–and the disappointment he feels when the connections are disrupted–are all rooted in Holden’s positive ideals about life and people. It is in his nature, perhaps, to hope for too much and be too disappointed when life doesn’t all play out according to his fantasies, but we can’t underestimate or disregard his fantasies. They’re worth something, that’s all I’m saying. Holden’s fantasies reveal his creative and artistic genius and make him into a sympathetic and appealing person. They also introduce a sense of playfulness and childlike joy into the otherwise dismal events of the book. Ultimately, Holden’s active imagination might make it possible for him to reconstruct these events into something useful in his life, instead of remaining a merely negative interlude.
All in all, I think this is a terrific portrayal of the in-betweeness of adolescence. And it’s not just for kids–many of us adults are still stuck there, just a little bit. I haven’t forgotten the dreams and fantasies. Not quite yet. Sniff.
Anyway, that was today. Tomorrow we’ll continue the process of developing some questions to focus our writing about Catcher.
Good day to you all.