Thank You Mr. Salinger

Last week, when I heard the news that J.D. Salinger had died, I was not surprised, but I was sad. Salinger's death represents for me the end of an era. For me it signals the decline of the Baby Boomer generation and a coming of age of my own.

I am thankful to Salinger for capturing teen angst and uncertainty with such precision. When I was a teenager, Catcher in the Rye caught my attention in a way no other novel had perhaps with the exception of The Great Gatsby. I was 18 when I first read it, and I was about to start classes at Baylor University, a school that I can't help but imagine bears a striking resemblance to Pencey Prep, at least in my then Holden-like state of mind. I could relate too well to Holden's hatred of all things phony, and also like Holden, I was not yet aware of my own phoniness. As the first person in my immediate family to attend college, I was nervous about entering the adult world. I didn't particularly trust many adults and did not really fit in with most teens. While I didn't sare Holden's affinity for deception, alcohol, and cigarettes, his rebellion resonated with me.

Later, my views on the novel would change as I outgrew Holden. I began to see his flaws as well as my own. After all these years, I still find the novel fascinating, beautiful, and haunting (like the best of Salinger's fiction). I have come to love some of his other work as well. "For Esme with Love and Squalor" remains one of my favorite short stories and reflects one of Salinger's other great talents: he writes great titles. Salinger writes about characters who are lost in modern society, who cannot come to terms with cruelty and alienation. Most of all, like myself, they are helpless romantics confronting a modernist reality that challenges all of their romantic idealism.

Perhaps my sadness about the loss of Salinger reflects a deeper sadness. Perhaps I am really mourning the end of an era that seems so romantic to me, an era of peace protests and folk music, an era where popular culture still seemed to have a purpose other than entertainment. I feel like Holden as he watches his sister riding the zoo carousel. He wants the carousel to go on forever, for time to stand still, for history to freeze, for childhood to remain. Maybe I want the romanticized ideal I have of past generations to be renewed even though it now seems gone forever, now just an unchanging relic in a history museum, right next to Holden's Eskimo friend.

I was surprised by the lack of fanfare for one of America's favorite writers. I suppose it resulted from Salinger's reclusive lifestyle and the fact that he stopped publishing decades ago. Still, I am saddened that the death of such an important artist does not go noticed. In contrast, the death of Michael Jackson, who also had not produced any work of note in the last decade and whose personal life is equally inscrutable, almost relaunched his career and is still garnering tributes. I chalk it up to my younger generation, constantly moving, constantly seeking to be entertained, constantly finding a new scandal to unearth and dissect.

I mourn our loss, at the same time knowing that change is inevitable, that I can't be the catcher in the rye, that my romantic ideals are more fantasy than fact, and that Holden has to grow up and move on at some point. Nevertheless, thank you, Mr. Salinger, for helping me to make sense of my own teenage confusion, for helping me to accept my own anger and helplessness, and most of all for helping me to see the beauty in my own brokenness. I hope you "find a place that's nice and peaceful."

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


Post a Comment