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  • Hi, I’m John Green and this is Crash Course Literature

  • and today were going to talk about The Catcher in the Rye,

  • the bestselling book never to be adapted into a film.

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green!

  • What about the Quran?

  • Fair enough, Me from the Past,

  • but there’s a religious injunction there.

  • The reason this has never been made into a movie is of course

  • because Salinger and his estate won’t allow it.

  • [spoilsporting FTL or Litigation as sport FTW?]

  • But how this text

  • I mean, even most of Salinger’s covers are imageless

  • has managed to remain relevant without a movie adaptation

  • in our image-saturated and image-driven culture is a very interesting question.

  • [but not one to subject TFIOS to, if you please]

  • And so today were gonna take a look at the pure and unadulterated text of

  • The Catcher in the Rye.

  • Now there are many ways to read a novel critically,

  • and next week well take a very different approach:

  • Well infuriate J.D Salinger’s ghost by reading this novel in a historical

  • and biographical context.

  • But today, let’s appease Salinger’s ghost by pretending

  • that he as a person never existed.

  • [BEST]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [EVER]

  • These days our artistic landscape is so deeply defined by visual narratives

  • on TV and in the movies that we can hardly imagine a world without images.

  • [or without HBO, ideally]

  • In fact, I’d argue that we have a bad habit

  • of seeing books as sort of cheaply-made movies

  • where the words do nothing but create visual narratives in our heads.

  • So too often what passes for literary criticism is

  • “I couldn’t picture that guyor “I liked that part

  • orThis part shouldn’t have happened;”

  • that is, weve left language so far behind that sometimes

  • we judge quality solely based on a story’s actions.

  • So we can appreciate a novel that constructs its conflicts

  • primarily through plot

  • the layered ambiguity of a fatal car accident caused

  • by a vehicle owned by Gatsby but driven by someone else, for instance.

  • But in this image-drenched world, sometimes we struggle to appreciate

  • and celebrate books where the quality arises not exclusively from plot

  • but also from the language itself. [did things just get a bit personal?]

  • Holden Caulfield, by the way,

  • was aware of this because he too lived in an image-driven world.

  • I mean,

  • on the very first page of the book, Holden calls his brother a prostitute

  • for abandoning bookwriting for Hollywoodband says,

  • If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.”

  • [hipsters can be such haters]

  • And the novel frequently identifies itself in direct opposition to film,

  • as for instance when Holden says,

  • “I don’t remember if he knocked me out or not, but I don’t think so.

  • It’s pretty hard to knock a guy out, except in the goddam movies.”

  • By the way, for the record,

  • it is okay to sayCharlotte Bronteif you are quoting the book in question.

  • But, now, outside of the text, I have to useCharlotte Bronte.”

  • Stan, I know we have to do it for the schools,

  • but this prohibition on cursing is so Emily Bronte annoying.

  • [see what he did there]

  • Okay so if youll just allow me one biographical note here,

  • Salinger once wrote in a letter,

  • “‘The Catcher in the Ryeis a very novelistic novel.

  • There are readymadescenes’— only a fool would deny that

  • but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice,

  • the non-stop peculiarities of it,

  • his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener.

  • He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique.”

  • Alright, but before we examine that first-person technique,

  • let’s go to the image-tastic Thought Bubble.

  • Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield’s expulsion from Pencey Prep

  • and his journey back home to New York City,

  • where he bums around for a few days trying to get someone to listen to him

  • and meaningfully respond to his fears about becoming an adult

  • Holden has grown six inches in the past year

  • and one side of his head is full of gray hair,

  • both symbols of impending, inevitable adulthood

  • and its accompanying adulteration of innocence.

  • He’s so obsessed with and protective of innocence

  • that he can’t even throw a snowball at a car because the car quote

  • looked so nice and white.”

  • Over and over again, Holden tries to reach out to people

  • who might tell him that adulthood will be okay

  • friends, old teachers, a prostitute, a nun, cab drivers--

  • but he can never quite find a way to ask these questions directly,

  • and anyway, no one ever listens to him.

  • Nothing much else happens:

  • There are no explosions or car chases and certainly no skoodilypooping,

  • as Holden Caulfield is perhaps the first human in history

  • ever to pay a prostitute not to have sex with him.

  • What Holden really wants is not

  • sex or money or power or any of the dramatic stuff in Hollywood movies:

  • He wants to stop time.

  • As he famously says when thinking about the Natural History Museum,

  • The best thing, though,

  • in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.”

  • Holden wants to be a protector of innocence

  • a catcher in the rye

  • but he also wants to stay innocent himself.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • So one way this is explored is through sex.

  • Holden is certainly very interested in sexuality,

  • and he acknowledges his sexual desire,

  • but what he knows of the adult world of sex is very scary and even abusive.

  • After a possible sexual advance from a trusted adult near the end of the novel,

  • Holden says,

  • That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid.”

  • [grody to the maXXX]

  • Like a lot of what Holden tells us about his feelings, that’s very subtle

  • and it requires close reading. But it’s important.

  • Like it’s easy to see why the adult world strikes Holden as so phony:

  • The only adult who pays attention to him in the entire novel has ulterior motives.

  • So he just wants to stop time

  • to keep himself and the people he cares about away from that world.

  • You may remember this obsession with stopping time

  • holdintime back, [grumble] if youll pardon the pun

  • from The Great Gatsby.

  • Of course,

  • that doesn’t work out for Gatsby, just as it doesn’t work for Holden.

  • I mean, the kid’s sixteen-years-old and he’s already got gray hair.

  • [worked for Anderson "silverfox" Cooper]

  • Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter?

  • [Solo Green squarely skids to score specific seat singly significant to self]

  • An Open Letter to Gray Hair.

  • But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today.

  • Oh, thank God, it’s the red hunting cap.

  • Oh, my people-hunting hat.

  • [the most dangerous game]

  • Stan, I know this is corny,

  • but I just feel so much more confident when I’m wearing it.

  • It’s kind of my emblem of protection.

  • Dear Gray Hair,

  • You generally result from the wisdom that comes with age,

  • or else someone experiencing a great fright.

  • But gray hair, if youre associated with age,

  • how come youve already attacked Holden Caulfield?

  • And more importantly, how come youve already attacked ME?

  • I just had a haircut,

  • and not a great one I might add, [for reals. Poufador? Pompapouf?]

  • and my [former] stylist said,

  • Do you think we should dye your hair? You ARE on YouTube.”

  • There’s no room in the brave, new media world for wisdom or age.

  • Holden Caulfield, I’m beginning to know what it’s like to be you.

  • Gray hair, all of this leads,

  • as T.S. Eliot put it, to anoverwhelming question,”

  • should I dye my hair?

  • Eh, I think I’ll just stick with my red hat.

  • It covers my gray hair and [preempts Stan from flicking his ears]

  • it makes me feel like I can take on the crushing phoniness of the adult world.

  • Best Wishes, John Green

  • Okay, let’s now turn to what Salinger called Holden’s first-person technique.

  • So, all these experiences are obviously very important and intense to Holden.

  • I mean, he’s writing us about the stuff that led him to a mental hospital.

  • But, the intensity of these emotions is masked by the tactics of his narration.

  • I mean, we just saw how subtly he hints at sexual abuse, for instance.

  • And also, Holden uses the passive voice constantly,

  • which of course youre not supposed to do as a writer.

  • Look, for instance, at this sentence,

  • The reason I was standing way up on Thomsen Hill,

  • instead of down at the game,

  • was because I’d just got back from New York with the fencing team.”

  • Any writing teacher would tell you that this is a disaster.

  • You ought to say, “I stood way up on Thomsen Hill,”

  • not “I was standing on it.”

  • But this passive voice is a coping mechanism.

  • I mean,

  • the whole reason that writing teachers tell you not to use the passive voice

  • is because it creates distance, whereas active verbs feel immediate and real.