At the root of his sadness is a serious case of untended grief
I am writing in response to James Wallenstein’s excellent essay on “The Catcher in the Rye” (“Holden Caulfield, 70 years on,” Ideas, Nov. 21). I, too, read “Catcher,” as a 17-year-old — in Catholic school in New York in the 1960s. I read it because it was forbidden, and I felt for Holden Caulfield’s sadness and feelings of disenfranchisement, which meant more to me than all the experiences he recounted.
When my sons read the book — assigned — in high school, I read it again. This time, I found it heartbreaking.
Holden’s younger brother had died of leukemia, leaving him and his sister Phoebe behind with their devastated parents, who were too consumed by their own grief to help Holden and his sister with theirs. I believe this is the root of Holden’s constant sadness. This is the factor that struck me profoundly when I reread the book, as an adult and as the parent of a deceased child.
When Holden visits his sister, and when he talks about the “catcher in the rye,” you see the sweetness of this young man who has nowhere to express his own grief and, as a teenage boy, doesn’t know how to do it.
Angela C. Healy
A loneliness one can relate to
James Wallenstein’s “Holden Caulfield, 70 years on” brought back strong memories of my youth. There was something edgy about reading and discussing “The Catcher in the Rye.” I’m not sure that Holden Caulfield spoke for a generation, but I was engaged by the tale. I remember one of my friends commented that Holden was atypical. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time.
The prep school experience was not part of my life, but I related to his loneliness. Loneliness follows us throughout life, and looking back, I found J.D. Salinger’s books and short stories formative.
I knew that Salinger served during World War II, but I didn’t know he was in a counterintelligence unit that liberated Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich. Perhaps the alienation he described so well was a product of that experience.
I agree with Wallenstein that Holden Caulfield’s voice “sweeps you up and takes you along and talks to you and makes you feel privately important.” I guess that’s why it resonates 70 years later.
Steven A. Ludsin
East Hampton, N.Y.