Idea Of The Day

Where Is Holden Caufield Now?

Is Holden Caulfield relevant or necessary or important? Is it necessary or important or relevant to ask such questions? With the 50th anniversary of the publication of J.D. Salinger’s very well-read and famous novel The Catcher in the Rye upon us, however, it’s hard to ignore the place Caulfield has come to occupy in the American literary imagination. In a sense, the anniversary began toward the end of last year with the appearance of Dream Catcher, Margaret Salinger’s book about her father. “Reading The Catcher in the Rye in light of what she knows of her father’s life,” Ron Rosenbaum said of the memoir, “Margaret seems to assume that the book is an uncritical endorsement of Holden Caulfield’s point of view, of his adolescent romanticism and his embittered crusade against ‘phonies.’ ” This spring, Janet Malcolm praised all of Salinger’s work, while more recently Thomas Beller saw the relevance of Caulfield in today’s New York. But Judith Shulevitz, formerly of Slate and now a columnist at the New York Times, took a different view: “Once Holden’s charisma loses its force, once we no longer believe in the purity that made him an exception … all we are left with is the piteous rant of a sad and lonely and somewhat paralyzed boy. … We can’t hold him or his monologue in the same esteem, because we sense that to do so is to accept life on his constrictingly simplistic terms. We have, thank goodness, moved on.”