I read "El Guardian Entre El Centeno" (The Catcher in the Rye, in Spanish) for the very first time at the age of 13, in Monterrey, Mexico. I'd heard about a priest coming to my school to get the book banned so naturally, I just couldn't wait to tear into it. The fact that it was surrounded in so much controversy, replete with profanity, violence and teenage sexuality made the book all the more intriguing to me at the curious age of 13. So, after hearing all the impassioned hype, I read it and I remember feeling let down and frustrated by it.
Then, at the age of 16, I read the book again; this time, in English. I was hoping that perhaps something had been lost in the Spanish translation and that it would live up to its hype if I read it in English. That did not happen and I came away from reading this book even more frustrated and disappointed than with the Spanish version.
As a young teenager, the whole book seemed like not much more than a long narrative about a teenage boy's apathy toward life, living, even breathing. J.D. Salinger gave Holden Caulfield a very limited vocabulary, so many times I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again - a writing style I did not enjoy. Holden is the walking poster child of every angst-ridden teenager who swears their parents don’t understand them, and how deep they are because they listen to the Cure , read Nietzsche and run around crying “Oh, the crimson woe of it all!” Holden complains about everything, considers everyone else a "phony" and yet he is an unoriginal pathological liar.
I was frustrated by the way some people made Holden out to be some sort of teen messiah on a pilgrimage to truth. Falling miserably short in the life achievement category while spouting sanctimonious rhetoric and bar hopping in between upsetting everyone who ever cared about him, did not constitute deification, in my opinion. I felt that Holden spent the entire book wandering around New York spouting intellectual nonsense that sounds deep for about 5 seconds and then floats to the surface to reveal it’s only baloney and that the book ended just as badly as it started.
Well, the above was my perspective until I decided to pick the book back up and read it again now that I'm in my 40's. I must say that this time I still didn't like Holden. In fact, as I read the first sentence, I groaned. Would I have to put up with this kid’s whining for another 214 pages? But in the end, I couldn’t hate Holden Caulfield, even after 215 pages of whining and complaining. His compassion redeemed him for me, and I’m so grateful I re-read his story so I could experience it again from this perspective.
As I read Catcher this time, I was mostly mad at his parents. I kept seeing it from the adult-child relationship perspective. Why on earth are his parents sending him away to a boarding school when he needs some actual attention? He recently lost his brother, who was his best friend, and yet he’s expected to go to classes and successfully pretend that he’s okay with everything. There is no doubt in my mind that his depression is normal. It seems that many of his frustrations could have been eliminated if there were some dialog among the family members. He loved his little sister. He loved his dead brother. Certainly, if his father and mother nurtured that love, rather than packing him off to school, it would have helped him a bit. (I’m not saying parents that send their kids to boarding school don’t love, but in this book, the only emotion we get about Holden’s father is that he’s going to “kill” Holden for getting kicked out of school. Is that really helpful?)
But I admit, as much as I disliked Holden’s complaining and his frustrations, the end made me cry. To think that all he wanted to do with his life was be one that saved children from falling off a cliff; and that he wanted to rub out all the bad words on the walls, one at a time; and that he wanted to make sure his little sister got her $8 back again: that was touching to me. Holden showed that he really did care about people, despite his best intentions, and he wished he could relate to them. That was the tragedy to him.
*Photos by Lulis Leal