Sunday, 8 September 2013

William Faulkner's quote on "The catcher in the rye" and Why I love J. D. Salinger

People all know I'm a Salinger fan (the other day my English teacher in the IB texted me about his upcoming books). I've read all of his books "The catcher in the rye", "Franny and Zooey", "Raise high the roof beam, carpenters and Seymour: an introduction" and "9 stories" (and own copies of the 1st 3), and some other short stories here and there in the internet. 
Perhaps I'm in the minority. As it seems, I rarely encounter a Salinger fan. Most of the time people when mentioning him only refer to "The catcher in the rye", and in most cases, they add that it's a stupid, overrated book and they don't understand why it's in the list of greatest books of all time. They say, they don't get it. 
And indeed they don't.
Here are the reasons I love J. D. Salinger: 
1/ Holden Caulfield is 1 of the most lively characters ever created in literature and I feel close to him, I feel like him. 
2/ I love "The catcher in the rye". It's not a book on teen angst, but rather an attack on hypocrisy, conformity and people's meaningless pursuits of superficial values in modern society. Besides, like Holden says, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author who wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.", I felt that way when I read it. 
3/ Salinger experiments and writes in different styles in his books. And like William Faulkner, he has an ear for dialogue and the ability to write in different voices. Compare the narrators in "9 stories" and Holden Caulfield and the Glass family members. 
4/ He doesn't make everything open, clear and obvious, so his books and short stories can be interpreted in multiple ways. 
5/ His short stories are perfection, particularly "A perfect day for bananafish", "Teddy", "For Esmé- with love and squalor", "Pretty mouth and green my eyes" and "The heart of a broken story". Actually I would say, his greatness lies in the short stories. 
6/ I like his use of symbols. Some of them get stuck in my mind: ducks, catcher in the rye, bananafish, orange peels. 
"Someone just dumped a whole garbage can of orange peels out the window [...] I don't mean it's interesting that they float. It's interesting that I know about them being there. If I hadn't seen them, then I wouldn't know they were there, and if I didn't know they were there, I wouldn't be able to say that they even exist.[...] After I go out this door, I may only exist in the minds of all my acquaintances. I may be an orange peel."
(from "Teddy") 
7/ I love his writing style, whatever voices he's using. 
From "The catcher in the rye": 
"When the weather's nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie's grave. I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out. In the first place, I don't enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn't too bad when the sun was out, but twice—twice—we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That's what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner—everybody except Allie. I couldn't stand it. I know it's only his body and all that's in the cemetery, and his soul's in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn't stand it anyway. I just wished he wasn't there." 
From "Seymour: an introduction": 
"He was a great many things to a great many people while he lived, and virtually all things to his brothers and sisters in our somewhat outsized family. Surely he was all real things to us: our blue-striped unicorn, our portable conscience, our supercargo, and our 1 full poet, and, inevitably, I think, since not only was reticence never his stronger suit but he spent nearly 7 years of his childhood as star turn on a children's coast-to-coast radio quiz program, so there wasn't much that didn't eventually get aired, 1 way of another- inevitably, I think, he was also our rather notorious 'mystic' and 'unbalanced type'. And since I'm obviously going whole hog right here at the outset, I'll further enunciate- if one can enunciate and shout at the same time- that, with or without a suicide plot in his head, he was the only person I've ever habitually consorted with, banged around with, who more frequently than not tallied with the classical conception, as I saw it, of a muka, a ringding enlightened man, a God- knower." 
8/ I love the creation of the Glass family. I love their brilliance and sensitivity and acute awareness and noncomformity. Among them, Buddy's a great writer, Seymour's a true seer (who thus has to suffer), Franny's cute, all 3 I'd like to be friends with, and the most fascinating one is Zooey. Obnoxious, perhaps, but it's in Zooey that I find myself (which is why I use the alias Elyssa Ozog). 
9/ I admire him and feel like connecting with him on a personal level. 
There are more reasons, obviously, but well, what's the point of driving myself crazy to find another reason now just so there would be 10? 
Anyway, interestingly enough, it turns out that William Faulkner also likes "The catcher in the rye". In 1958, he said: 
"I have not read all the work of this present generation of writing; I have not had time yet. So I must speak only of the ones I do know. I am thinking now of what I rate the best one: Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, perhaps because this one expresses so completely what I have tried to say: a youth, father to what will, must someday be a man, more intelligent than some and more sensitive than most, who (he would not even have called it by instinct because he did not know he possessed it) because God perhaps had put it there, loved man and wished to be a part of mankind, humanity, who tried to join the human race and failed. To me, his tragedy was not that he was, as he perhaps thought, not tough enough or brave enough or deserving enough to be accepted into humanity. His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there." 
Pretty much how I view Holden Caulfield- "more intelligent than some and more sensitive than most". And the last sentence, "His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there". "There was no human race there". Isn't that beautiful? 


  1. Thanks, I was looking for this Faulkner quote for a post I'm writing. I love that quote too. Nice to see someone who gets Holden.

    Never trust anybody who doesn't like Catcher in the Rye.

    1. Haha.
      This post was written so long ago, I'm embarrassed to look back at it.
      Thanks though. Send me link to your post when you've finished writing.