Tuesday, February 2, 2010

salinger

After my last class last Friday, a student approached the desk. Rather than discuss a paper topic or grade, he wanted to discuss Salinger's death. I hadn't mentioned it in class, so this alone made me happy.

Over the weekend and through today, I had a chance to read various obituaries--from The Washington Post and New York Times and other papers. Like you perhaps, I particularly enjoyed the Times article on the less reclusive life that "Jerry" enjoyed in Corning, New Hampshire, including the fact that the town folk enjoyed helping J.D. avoid the tourists by giving bad directions.

I got to thinking about when and if I'd ever assigned Catcher in the Rye, and from what I recall the only time I did was in an American Literature survey course I taught for a satelleite campus of a university with central headquarters in Illinois. The classroom was in the basement of a hospital near Broad and Girard in North Philadelphia, and the students were 6 middle-aged nurses looking to complete a bachelors degree.

How or why Instructor Kudera chose Salinger for this crowd is unclear, but to a person, these women found the narrator to be a spoiled rich kid who complained too much. They couldn't believe anyone would dare whine so much as our dear, dissident Holden. If I'm not mistaken, my enthusiasm carried me an hour into the 3-hour night class before I recognized they disliked our hero. From there, I grew cautious, switched David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident to Toni Morrison's Sula and was relieved when the semester came to an end.

(The Bradley would have also been a first assigning for me, but it's long and dense and who knows what my overworked African American adult students would have thought about the bitter black male protagonist living with a white woman he seems to treat so poorly at times?)

So there you have it. Holden Caulfield has a special place in the heart of millions--not only English teachers and majors and writers but all kinds of kids who may or may not be "readers" and of course, famously, even a serial killer or assassin here and there. But to exhausted women pursuing the full four-year degree after half an adult life spent cleaning up blood and urine, Holden was a spoiled brat.

God bless you and your literature, Salinger, and of course, may you rest in peace.

Carry on.

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