While in class we were not able to fully discuss our last reading chapters, it is in chapter 16 where we are introduced to the novel’s namesake. On page 105 in my book version, Holden describes seeing a young boy “making out like he was walking a very straight line…the whole time he kept singing and humming” (105). Although not mentioned in class, this is still an important part of the novel. It is a simple yet distinct observation, one that ties back to our other chapter discussions on Tuesday.
During our class, we brought up many themes and ideas to help characterize Holden, but it is necessary to distinguish what exactly everyone in the class believes him to be. We must ask ourselves whether to look at Holden as a typical teenager, or strictly as a literary archetype. In some ways he is both. Our discussion on Holden’s personality and individual nuances therefore helps us to pinpoint J.D. Salinger’s ideology. Moving on to the specific themes themselves, Professor Rafieisakhaei listed these on the board for us to analyze. They included depression, sex and sexuality, and an obsession with death. Rather than listing all that was written, I will highlight these memorable topics that we discussed in class.
Beginning primarily with this idea of depression, Professor Rafieisakhaei did disclaim that we as students are not able to give that full diagnosis for Holden’s behavior. Yet it is still valid, simply due to the fact that Holden barely exhibits any noticeable happiness. In addition to his apathy, our class mentioned Holden is both extremely observant and pessimistic. Most notably in his meeting with Mr. Sanders, Holden distinctly says: “there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing” (10). This happened to be one of the questions for the chapter 1 sheet, and it is the first introduction we as readers are given concerning Holden’s depression. Whether or not we can find the exact reason for Holden’s despondency, we as a class did attribute his time at Pencey Prep and failures in school as either a possible catalyst or byproduct for this behavior.
Next comes an analysis on sex and sexuality. Chapter 13 epitomizes this theme. This is not only due to the fact that this is Holden’s rendezvous with a prostitute in the green dress, but also because we see more into the mind of a conflicted character. Just as the class discussed how it is normal for teenagers to go through these types of emotions and unclassifiable feelings, this is one of the chapters where we see Holden at his most vulnerable. Referring back to sexuality, Holden says “If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to use my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet. Something always happens” (85). We as a class have to take Holden’s word for this, but yet it does shed more light on his personality. It seems that in the midst of Holden’s crisis, sex is a justifiable and easy tool that will help him break that barrier between childhood and adulthood. In some ways, like we mentioned in class, Holden is burdened by his displacement in life. It would not be a “coming of age” novel without the question of what happens when we grow up. Therefore we could argue that sex, while a very intimate act, is seen by Holden as the least personable thing he could accomplish.
A final theme we discussed in class that I want to emphasize deals with an obsession with death. We mentioned in class how this could stem from the death of Holden’s brother, Allie, but yet we also see this same mantra appearing throughout the novel. To some extent, Holden’s constant catchphrase of “They kill me” is an extension for this idea (116). Additionally, Holden’s constant use of the word “phony” also reinforces an idea of life and realness against the backdrop of his fake surroundings. This word, along with his red hunting cap, are Holden’s way of separating himself from the world’s facade. In other words, joining other “phonies” is both social and intellectual suicide. Holden clings to this idea of death not because he is fascinated by it, but because he realizes how afraid he is of it.
With these themes, our class developed a deeper understanding for Holden’s delicate frame of mind. While we have still have yet to cover the whole book, our observations helped us evaluate Holden’s complexion and cynicism. I therefore draw attention back to the title of this post, hopefully as a future class discussion topic. It possible that these themes point to the explanation of the book’s title, yet for what reasons, we are still unsure.