Holden Caulfield: An Old Soul?

The Catcher in the Rye

Yes, at times Holden Caulfield is a whiny little dude – typical of many teenagers; however, I can’t help but find pieces of an old soul in him.  In recently rereading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I came across a passage that I had underlined when I was sixteen revealing Holden’s thoughts as he visits a museum.  I remember using it in the oral report I gave in tenth grade.  Apparently, it had held some significance to me then and I found it rather odd that it continued to have significance all these years (actually decades) later:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.  Nobody’d move.  You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs…Nobody’d be different.  The only thing that would be different would be you.  Not that you’d be so much older or anything.  It wouldn’t be that, exactly.  You’d just be different, that’s all.  You’d have an overcoat on this time.  Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner.  Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger.  Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom.  Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them.  I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean.  And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

Something about the passage makes me forget Holden is only a teenager.  When I was in grade school, my class would visit the Dayton Museum of Natural History on a regular basis.  And, yes, everything was always the same.  I can still remember scenes and images from those visits.  I’m sure they wouldn’t be there, now (although I can imagine).  Even if I could go back and see everything the way it was, I would be different – and most of that difference would be due to years, perhaps not just years, but life itself – that happens during the years.

Reading a favorite novel, thirty years later, can also make me realize what’s different – and what’s still the same.

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2 responses to “Holden Caulfield: An Old Soul?

  1. Hi Dale,
    That’s a great passage you quote – and a quite appropriate choice for one who is returning to the novel “after all these years.” Something about it also reminds me of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, whose character wants to turn the tables on the “always staying the same” phenomenon after being told that his portrait “will always remain just as it does today.” I can hear him saying now,”if only the PICTURE could change…”

    There’s also the saying that when you revisit an old favorite read, you don’t so much find things different in it as you do things different in yourself.

    I was also struck when reading The Catcher in the Rye at how much older he acted and how his thoughts were often those off much older “soul” than he was, chronologically speaking.

    -Jay

  2. It’s taking me a long time to get through The Picture of Dorian Gray even though it’s a short book. Enjoying it but just busy with other things right now.

    I thought Holden’s encounters at night clubs always made me think he was older than he was. Even if he was questioned about his age.

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