Us teenagers have so many stereotypes to live up to. It is a struggle to be rebellious and moody, selfish and irratable, to be slamming doors and getting into screaming matches with other family members. Of course, we all basically go through the same phases so it’s understandable why we are expected to act this way. I think that the thing that defines being a teenager the most though is the search for our own identity. Trying to find out who we are, what we want do with our lives and perhaps most importantly, who we want to be. We all yearn for acceptance, to find people who understand us. Finding people in real life can be more than a little tricky.
A large majority turn to media to find these impossible to find symbols they can identify themselves with. Books to television, music to film and even the internet in this day and age, they all have their kings and queens of angst and relatability. They all deserve a place on the dark walls of our bedrooms, stuck with the unbreakable bonds of blu tac because they need nothing more. One character does come to the front of my mind when I’m asked to think about teen icons though and he is the narrator of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger. His name, is Holden Caulfield. You might have heard of him.
For years, Holden Caulfield was heralded as the definitive voice for the teenage generation to listen to, to hear loud and clear. The now infamous protagonist of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, which oddly enough isn’t about a baseball player practising in a field in case you thought that, ruled over the land of teenage icons for decades upon decades. Disillusionment, rebellion, angst, alienation, constantly whining and not doing anything to fix the things he’s moaning about. Although he probably could have now become aspects of the stereotypical grumpy 12 year-olds to 19 year-olds since its first edition came out in 1951. However, in recent years, critics have attempted to pull the once unmovable king from his throne.
The only novel the ‘great’ J.D Salinger ever wrote ‘lacks any relevance in this technology driven time we call the 21st century’ other writers would cry out. There has always been criticism surrounding the book, that is to be expected especially with one that is as famous as this one. Nevertheless the excessive amount of whining our main character coupled with the erratic thought process he speaks in have deterred many from enjoying it. Nowadays, people have begun complaining that it is out of date. It’s once praised used of “current slang” is being presented as evidence for showing how it has aged. For a classic, many would argue that it is starting to show how much time has passed during its lifetime. To them, it is now nothing more than the self-obsessed ideals of growing up in the baby-booming era of post World War Two.
If Holden can no longer live up to his billing as the no.1 rebellious symbol, then who do we get to the fill the void left by Salinger’s most well-known creation? This question has been answered recently by another author who has made his case for being the voice of the modern teenage generation. John Green, a man whose books are now some of the most famous young adult novels ever written.
He’s been praised for his portrayal of the teenager state of mind, of the intensity that we possess that other adults seem to forget. One of the most famous authors to do this before hand was, unsurprisingly, Salinger.
Green himself has admitted that Salinger hugely influenced him as a writer. Despite this, I wouldn’t say that Green is the next Salinger which is something many have mentioned. It’s not to discredit Green, there is just a very simple reason why I can’t agree with this statement.
There is a fundamental difference between Salinger and Green. It’s one that means they really can’t be compared when it comes to vying for space on the poster-covered walls. There is a fundamental difference between them because there is a fundamental difference between their main characters. The difference between Holden and Miles ‘Pudge’ Halters from ‘Looking From Alaska’, and Quentin from ‘Paper Towns’, and Hazel Grace Lancaster from ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is a simple one; it’s simply that despite what actions Green’s protagonists do or what they might say or think, you are supposed to like them. The thing is, you are not supposed to like Holden.
As a character, Holden is unbelievably interesting to study and write about. As a person, he is whiny, immature, lacks any trace of growth by the end of his story, he says thing that leave you staring at the page going “Why did you just say that, you actual idiot.”. He isn’t looking for your sympathy, he is the embodiment of the worst teenage traits and he knows it.
You can’t compare these two authors. I read an article trying to compare ‘Looking For Alaska’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, more specifically comparing the two main characters. There are a lot of the same ideas being covered by Miles and Holden, loss, rebellion, isolation to name a few. Miles however doesn’t go to the same extremes that Holden does. That’s because the authors are trying to achieve two things which are on two opposite sides of the spectrum. It relates back to this quote I heard somewhere, “If I can’t be a perfect example, then let me be a horrible warning.”. Green writes examples. Salinger writes warnings.
Their different goals mean they both stand on their own merits. Comparing the two of them really doesn’t do them any justice so there is no point to it whatsoever. I guess if you did force me to chose one at threat of nuclear death strike from North Korea, I would pick Salinger. Holden’s erratic thought process and narration really appeal to me for some reason, I don’t really know why. I also like a good bit of controversy as well and The Catcher in the Rye certainly has that. I mean, I doubt the police will ever turn up to a crime scene and see the killer just standing there, a gun in one hand and a recently splattered copy of “The Fault in Our Stars’ in the other.
By Heather Notman
By Heather Notman