The Catcher in the Rye

“Teacher in the Rye” was just a pun. My friends and I tried out other blog titles adapted from English Lit: Much Ado About Teaching, Brave New Teacher, Far From the Teaching Crowd. I settled on this one mainly for its sound. But I’ve just re-read Salinger’s novel, and I’m glad about it. I might even change the story, make a case that The Catcher in the Rye is the ideal muse for a blog about teaching, quietly delete this post when I’ve confirmed the alibi.

salinger

Firstly, the novel is set in schools. It opens in one, features another and includes flashbacks to a third. It’s also full of teachers: Mr Spencer, Mr Vinson, Mr Antolini. Even the nuns are schoolteachers, and they’re one of two things that Holden really likes, along with James Castle, “a skinny little weak-looking guy” who jumps out the window of his high-school dorm.

Mostly, though, The Catcher in the Rye shows a smart young person that the system has failed. Why is Holden flunking every subject but English? Why do schools keep kicking him out? This is the real challenge to teachers from the novel, and the real way its protagonist will be my muse. As Holden says, “I don’t know exactly what I mean by that, but I mean it.”

Anachronistically, there’s also something blog-like about the book. “I had quite a few topics on my mind,” writes Holden, lover of digressions. Rejecting “phonies” in his search for the authentic, he nonetheless sees through a veil of subjectivity, and lets it veil his prose. “I don’t feel like going into it” comes in the first sentence; over the page, “I forgot to tell you about that.” And he stops when the story runs out. “That’s all I’m going to tell about.” Fine, Holden. What can I do, but start my own blog?

I’ll write more about teachers in the book. Mr Antolini is especially fraught: “the best teacher I ever had” who suddenly loses Holden’s trust, a man full of theories who can’t get the practice right. He deserves his own post, along with the ailing history teacher, the awful English teacher, and the Shakespeare-loving nuns.

But for now I’ll leave you with some of Holden’s amazing reviews. He’s a great critic. On Romeo and Juliet: “Romeo and Juliet, at least it was their own fault.” On a theatre show: “I mean I didn’t care too much when anybody in the family died or anything. They were all just a bunch of actors.” On a certain movie: “All I can say is, don’t see it if you don’t want to puke all over yourself.”

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