Sunday, January 31, 2010

* Holden Caulfield 1951-2010+ : Coined Date-Rape Formula

J.D. Salinger: Shell Shock or Sell Shock?

Holden Caulfield the teen-age hero of The Catcher in the Rye, was 16 in 1949 when he was in the “crumby place” he couldn’t get out of near Hollywood, sent there to recuperate from something (“nearly got t.b. and had to come out here and take it easy”) probably an emotional breakdown (“all this crazy stuff that happened to me around Christmas time last year”).

Today his symptoms (“felt like I was disappearing”; “felt like committing suicide” passing out in the bathroom; flunking out of three schools) sound remarkably like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), not surprising since Holden’s creator, J.D. Salinger, had been hospitalized for “battle fatigue” after WW II, also known as “shell shock.”

Part of Salinger’s cure may have been turning shell shock into sell shock; 60 million copies of Catcher sold to date (2010) and still counting.

Today, Holden Caulfield would be 77-years old, January 27, 2010, the day his creator died at age 91. (Although the book was published in 1951, the action takes place when Holden was 16: 1949 --- three years after his brother Allie died in 1946, when Holden was 13 and Allie was 11.)

Patrick Welsh who teaches English at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia writes in an article in The New York Times today, January 30th, that “One of the funniest parts of the book is Holden’s description of why he has not yet lost his virginity.”

Only an adult could say that the “virginity” piece in Catcher was “funny”.

Holden’s “If you want to know the truth I’m still a virgin, I really am.” is not funny at all to a teenager of either gender today.

It is deadly serious: Even now that women no longer bear the sexist cross of having to be virgins at marriage, virginity for a teenage girl carries the same curse it does for a teenage boy: “You’re still a virgin?!” is an accusation (“You’re still a child?!”).

This confession of virginity by Holden fairly early in the novel establishes him as a completely honest narrator---and makes his bellyaching about “phoneys” endurable.

In fact, Holden is the first instance of a new creature in American literature: the liberated male.

Holden cares about girls as people and is furious when Stradlater appears to be using his friend Jane as an opportunity to carve yet another notch in his sexual holster.

Even when Holden gets manipulated into hiring a prostitute at the Hotel Edmont, he finds a way not to exploit her sexually even though he fantasizes about a character in a novel named Monsieur Blanchard, who says a woman’s body is a violin which a man has to learn to play like a virtuoso (“Caulfield and his magic violin”).

The truth of the matter is that Holden has articulated the date rape protection formula forty years before the term “date rape” was even coined: he laments it (the trouble with me is”) but he adheres to it (“when a girl says stop, I stop").

Feminists, meet Holden Caulfield: American literature’s first liberated male, a creature you claimed for decades after 1949 didn’t exist.

No comments: