I realise now that the title of this post suggests a daunting/deep text post, but I promise it’s just my musings on the novel, which I happened to have only just read (cray I know). When I told my dad I was reading Salinger’s arguably most famous work, he commented “ah yeah loads of psychos read that”, which intrigued me. It turns out that the assassination of John Lennon, attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer were all carried out by murderers who were found to have the book in their possession. Spooky, I know. The man responsible for the shooting of John Lennon openly associated himself with the protagonist Holden Caulfield, going as far as to call himself Holden and signing his copy of the novel “this is my statement”.
So what is it about the book the appeals so strongly to those of psychotic tendencies? There’s a real sense of isolation surrounding the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Told solely from his perspective, the relatively uneventful novel explores his, often very emotional, opinions of other people. The description of these other people is also almost always negative and often degrading, creating an overwhelmingly pessimistic tone to the novel which I personally couldn’t stand. The protagonist appears to separate himself, both mentally and physically, from the rest of society who he believes are all “phonies”, apart from his little sister Phoebe whom he appears to adore. I guess it’s this sense of isolation and separateness from the rest of society which resonates so strongly with the minds of psychopaths and murderers.
Although it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, I did begin to worry that the book had some sort of unexplainable power to turn normal people into psychopaths, but was relieved when I didn’t really enjoy the book or empathise with Holden a huge amount. I mean, there are aspects of the novel which I can associate with, however I think most people would probably associate with them too; I saw my negative, pessimistic side in Holden’s wholly pessimistic outlook, but realised that this wasn’t the side of myself I liked and didn’t enjoy relating to the negativity.
My favourite part of the novel was the penultimate chapter in which Holden describes what he’d like to be, this section is also where the title of the book comes from, bearing reference to Robert Burns’ “Comin thro’ the Rye”. I won’t tell you what exactly is said, you’d have to read it for yourself to find out, but I felt it was undoubtedly the most uplifting part of the novel, creating a sense of positivity, albeit a small one, to the ending of the novel, although the book does then finish on a notably depressing note, which didn’t surprise me. But I wondered if this is what separates me, or us, from the psychopaths, do they not get that same uplifting feeling from the penultimate chapter? Can they not take the novel and separate it from their own lives, using it as a comparative source from which to highlight the good in their own lives? Maybe the book just resonates too strongly and relates too much to their own life for them to be able to separate fiction from reality.
It’s definitely something I’ll ponder on, what do you think?