When J.D. Salinger gave readers Holden Caulfield, he also gave the literary community a potentially frustrating yet compelling figure: A mode of comparison to hold against virtually all coming-of-age teenagers in the decades to come.
Two books recently crossed my path – The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the story of a lesbian teenager being raised by evangelicals in the Midwest; and Perks of Being a Wallflower, the bestselling novel-turned-movie about a young, tortured soul named Charlie. The blurb on Cameron Post compared the heroine to a female Holden Caulfield. As for Perks—well, it would be difficult to read the novel and not think of Catcher in the Rye. The two male protagonists share so many similarities that I found my mind wandering off on Holden while I was on a journey with Charlie. (For the record: Both books are amazing).
Another writer and I recently discussed the impact of Holden Caulfield on his successors. We had differing thoughts on the relationship between Holden and Charlie, but agreed that there was a lot of room to compare Perks and Catcher in the Rye. Both boys have removed sentimentality and repressed anger, and both struggle with the death of someone close to them. Charlie is sweeter, Holden is edgier, but the comparisons are clear.
I haven’t yet finished Cameron Post (another great book, btw), but I fail to see a clear lineage between Cameron and Holden. The only similarity, it seems, is that they are both teenagers trying to find themselves. But that’s true for any coming-of-age story. Hence why they’re called “coming of age.”
Which makes me wonder: Are all coming-of-agers destined to be compared to Holden Caulfield? If so, is that fair?
Things that make you go hmm.
Another thing to make you go hmm: This article on how views of Holden Caulfield have changed over the years.
[Illustration of Holden courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, user 50 Watts.]