I just found out that beloved author of The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, passed away. Though this news didn't completely devastate me like finding out Kurt Vonnegut had died four years ago, it did spark a bit of fond remembrance for the man and the many characters he brought us, especially Holden Caulfield.
For the first time this year, I taught The Catcher in the Rye to my Advanced Placement English Literature class. Usually, we study Kate Chopin's novella The Awakening, but for the past three years, students have hated it and therefore ruined a perfectly wonderful story for me. So, this year, I decided it was time for a change and Salinger was the perfect choice.
The kids have really enjoyed this book and have fallen in love with Holden. I had forgotten how easily a high school senior, about to embark into the "real world," can relate to Holden Caulfield, the poster child for indecision and rebellion because he is not sure what role to play as an adult. As I remember J. D. Salinger today, what comes to mind is not only how much I enjoyed the book, but how much joy and frustration and understanding it brought to eleven students in my class.
What I remember is the looks on their faces the first time we read a few chapters: "Wow. Holden doesn't seem to be able to express himself without using the words fuck and damn," one student remarked, but quickly followed that comment with, "But I'm okay with that; we all cuss every now and then, just not as much as Holden." Or the time when a student couldn't help herself and exclaimed, "Man, I just want to take Holden by the shoulders and shake him. We all aren't sure what life holds, but we can't just sit and complain and make fun of everyone all of the time. What he doesn't see is that by avoiding the 'phonies,' he is becoming a phony himself: a lone, sad person, who life is passing by." These kinds of comments blow me away and would make Salinger proud. Not only are they understanding his message, but they are applying it to their own lives. What teacher could ask for anything more?
These are the memories I will have of Salinger; seeing him through the eyes of a teenager again. Teaching his book in class helps keep Salinger's memory alive for my students, and watching them dive into the world of Holden and Pency Prep. and surface with knowledge and understanding about their own position in life is what keeps Salinger's memory alive for me.
Thank you, J. D. Salinger, for your contribution to the literary world and the lives of eleven students at a rural high school. And thanks for adding to the memories of a grateful teacher.