Holden 2010

Every now and then I hear a yuppie call to her child by the name of Holden.  This always give me pause.  Not because I am a yuppie too.  Not because I’d love to have my own mad tofu-eating toddler running around Golden Gate Park.  But because of the name.  Holden.  Really?  You named your kid after the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye?  The kid who tells his story from an insane asylum?  The kid who gets kicked out of five schools?  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Holden-hater.  I like The Catcher in the Rye.  But, I am an English teacher — it’s practically a requirement. The novel is an annual favorite, and it’s on every “classics” list.  It is a holy text.  Maybe that’s why South Park decided to slaughter the sacred cow on their episode: The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.  The no-neck boys from South Park eagerly read the novel after their teacher promises that it is racy, censored and controversial.  Grossly disappointed, they decide to write their own banned book, a book that causes readers to vomit.  Vomit a lot.  

And this brings me back to my English class.  No, the students don’t vomit excessively.  I’m sure they watch South Park, but more importantly, The Catcher in the Rye was chosen by several of them for an independent-book-report-project-make-a-poster-use-the-rubric-you’ve-had-two-months-to-work-on-this-!-!-extravaganza.  Yesterday presentations began.  (My students are AMAZING!)  Does Holden still resonate with today’s teens?  Does Holden transcend the decades of teenage angst?  According to Boy-Who-Should-Wear-a-Bike-Helmet, “Holden is a whiner and a complainer.  He needs to step up to the plate and make something of himself.”  Hmmmm…What could this mean?  Has Holden fallen from grace?  Will the next generation name their sons after Atticus, not HC?!  

Upon further questioning, Boy-Who-Should-Wear-a-Bike-Helmet revealed that he doesn’t think there are any excuses for being kicked out of school repeatedly.  He thinks Holden is spoiled.  And that, no, his relationship with Phoebe does not redeem him.  Neither does anything else. 

It makes me wonder if times have changed.  Do teens identify more with the protagonist who is not an anti-hero, but a true hero?  Maybe in uncertain times, teens want to read about people who can suck it up — stiff upper lip and all of that.  Or maybe Holden hits too close to home and what some dislike about him is that he has qualities they themselves have.

Regardless, Holden lives on.  I expect to teach him — or one or three — in a few years.  



3 Responses

  1. Excellent question: what would JD do? Well, from the viewpoint of a teen (who has yet to read the book), I have to say that Bike-Helmetless boy has a point: though everyone likes seeing a person who is not doing well rise up and become responsible for themselves, (Holden? I really should read the book first before replying), sometimes it’s easier to look at a hero who has it all made, and, of course, being fictional, has virtually no faults (Atticus). That’s why it’s called fiction. The easy way out is always preferred, and maybe I’m just saying this because I am closer to Holden’s age, but whiny? Really? I don’t think that main characters, protagonists, should whine. The Princess Diaries are 9 books full of whining, and after a while you wonder which side you should be rooting for.
    Groovy. Chica out.

  2. I’m with you La Chica – main characters should not whine – but doesn’t Bella – quite a bit really? But are you suggesting Atticus has it easy, or takes easy way out? Isn’t the fact that he can be considered a hero is that he does the hard thing with dignity?

  3. For a different perspective on Atticus: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/10/090810fa_fact_gladwell

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