This week’s Musing Monday: “Have you ever reread a book and found that your opinion changed?”
This has probably happened to me more than once, but the most memorable instance was in re-reading J. D. Salinger’s [amazon asin=0316769177&text=The Catcher in the Rye].
I first read the book in high school. Not as required reading. My high school in California actually did precious little of that. It wasn’t until I moved to Georgia that I was actually required to read much substantial literature in English class. I think had some kind of list of great books students should have read by the time they entered college, and this book must have been on it. I hated Holden Caulfield. He was whiny. He complained too much. You know what, Holden? I thought. Life just isn’t fair. Suck it up. I really disliked him when he procured Sunny the prostitute. He was arrogant. He was annoying and full of himself.
Years later, Catcher was in my ninth grade curriculum. I picked it up again, not expecting to feel differently, but I was surprised. This time, I saw Holden as a victim. He was a loving brother who had lost a beloved younger brother and felt guilty about the small unkindnesses brothers commit against each other. He didn’t want to lose Phoebe the way he had lost Allie. He had already written his older brother off as a phony. His parents were largely absent and paid no attention to him, so naturally he was self-destructive and subconsciously did things that would ensure he was kicked out of school so they would have to pay attention to him, however fleetingly. He didn’t feel like he had a place in the world. One of the most poignant scenes to me in all of American literature, and I’ve taught the course a few times, is this scene when Holden is walking down the street in New York:
Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street. I thought I’d just go down, down, down, and nobody’d ever see me again. Boy did it scare me. You can’t imagine. I started sweating like a bastard—my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him. Then it would start over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think.” (197-198)
That is the portrait of a scared, lost child, and I think in reading it for the first time as a high school teacher and as a parent, I realized how incredibly sad Holden’s situation was. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to protect him.
My opinion of the book, and its main character, changed completely.
I think we probably never read the same book twice. We always pick up on different things when we re-read. We are different people than we were the last time we read the book. However, I can’t remember ever experiencing such a different reaction to re-reading a book as I did these two times I read Catcher.
I’ll be teaching it again next month.
I can’t wait.