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The Dawning Of Mourning Essay, Research Paper

The dawning of mourningThe Catcher in the RyeJD SalingerLittle, Brown, 1951When JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was first published, the reviews were hostile and dismissive. However, by 1953 when I, a sulky 17-year-old American, read the book, it was already a classic. I could recite whole passages by heart while looking suggestively into the eyes of my date who, like me, thought everything about the adult world was, as Holden Caulfield said, “phoney”.The book celebrated the good English student, the sensitive outsider, the kid who in today’s world might be a “freak”. It mocked the cruel jocks and the successful ones who played by the rules. Holden may have been expelled from various schools, but all virtue, all human kindness, was expelled with him.In the 1950s, conformity and hypocrisy were the enemy of all that was vital, interesting, original, promising and true; at least this is how we saw the world. Holden would not be silenced. He would not hide in the fog that covered us all. He had real feelings.So many of us loved Holden Caulfield because he, like us, was an outsider that, had we noticed, it would have been a major logical problem. If the number of would-be Holdens was anywhere equal to the number of those who carried the book the way Jehovah’s Witnesses pack their Bibles, how isolated or remarkable could we be? Were we in fact outsiders, or were we merely foot soldiers in a new army that was to appear in the 1960s? Nonetheless, it was, Salinger’s attack on the “phoney” that seemed to me the essence and the glory of the book.But when I picked it up again recently and reread it, I saw that I had, in fact, missed the point. This short novel is about mourning and loss. Holden’s journey through various schools begins with the death of his brother of leukemia and his parents’ attempt to protect him by not allowing him to attend the funeral. He locks himself in the garage and breaks his hands in fury. It is unspoken grief that ails Holden.The next death in this book is of a classmate bullied into falling out of his dorm window. This death is also not discussed by the adults in the school and is covered up entirely. When Holden wonders in a famous passage about where the ducks in Central Park go in winter, it is clear he is wondering about the disappeared, the unspoken of, the removed, the dead. While isolation, dramatic loneliness are common to the adolescent soul, what was particular to Holden was his hard-earned knowledge that death was coming, had come and no one would speak of it.Holden said that when he grew up he wanted to be a “catcher in the rye”. This catcher was a person who would run through the fields that were on the crest of a sharp cliff and whose responsibility it was to catch the children playing in those fields before they fell to their deaths. Holden dreams of saving his brother, and perhaps not just his own brother.This book was written in the wake of the second world war, when all over America families had lost their sons and brothers and husbands – but in the culture at large this was not a time for mourning or remembering; it was a time for building and booming, and a determined optimism covered the grief that must have afflicted so many.This book was also written in the face of the silence about the Holocaust. In the immediate post-war years, there was so very little comment on the deaths we knew had occurred. As with the the death of the weaker boy at Holden’s boarding school, no one seemed to care.The numbers of dead were shocking. The absence of those who would have lived and loved must have created a huge hole in humanity – but no one was talking about it, not in the early 50s, and certainly not in the late 40s when Salinger wrote this novel.Delicious isolation. A romantic sense of one’s self as special. A cold eye cast on others less prone to read poetry. These are the common marks of misfit adolescents on the edge of trouble. But Holden’s real trouble was silence, unrelieved mourning, grief he could not name.Decades later, I read this book, with affection, of course, for Holden, for my own misspent youth, but with a new appreciation for the ground the author was breaking. In today’s world of grief counsellors accompanying every disaster, and therapists as common as bus drivers, mourning would never be allowed to fester unattended, which is, on the whole, a good thing. But The Catcher in the Rye remains the book that froze history at the moment before we could see ourselves as children falling from the cliff, as a people in mourning.

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