Public Enemy Numero Uno: Holden Caulfield

It’s mid-October, the weather is chilly and miserable, and the atmosphere is gloomy– the perfect setting for his rise from literary hell. I walk into my favorite class and my teacher, his unwitting accomplice, stands there, mocking me. She is giving her first lesson on The Catcher in the Rye. Reality transmogrifies as warped images of red hunting caps and ducks fly around in my head. I don’t break and fall on the floor, or scream about the injustice of having to read about the insufferable Holden Caulfield. A loud sigh and rolling of my eyes suffices. His tyrannical reign of phoniness has begun.  

It was ninth grade when I first encountered him: adamant, illogical, misguided. At first I couldn’t find enough differences between us to separate myself from him. He had grown over six inches that year; I had grown maybe five inches in the past three years. He was a privileged, good-looking white kid.  I was a scrawny, poor, gerbil-looking Hispanic teen. He represented teen rebellion and angst, while I had never gotten detention or been in a relationship.  

My spite for Holden never ceased, not for a moment, until I entered my senior year and reread the book for ironic leisure. That was when I realized why I had hated him: he reminded me of who I used to be. Although I didn’t want to admit it then, I wasn’t reading; I was looking in a mirror.

As Holden wandered, aimless, through New York, I had wandered into a newsroom. I figured taking journalism as a freshman would give me a clear idea of what I wanted to be in the future. But while I learned countless skills that year, my feelings for journalism were still formless, detached; it was a job. Holden got a sense of the real world, but neither of us got the clarity we were anticipating.

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I matured as a journalist. Like many others, I had a craving and a mission to change the world through my own writing. My personal, altruistic ambitions were on the same playing field as Holden’s. Protecting the souls of the innocent is a Sisyphean task, much like my old vision on enlightening the world. And yet, by the end of junior year, I had walked away from my boulder at the bottom of the cliff.

Holden is a fictional character who continues to make the same mistakes over and over again; his flawed image of a stagnant, eternal purity disregards something essential and absolute: change. But unlike Holden, I am an individual who has evolved, learned, and matured over the course of my high school experience. As a journalist, I discovered that in order to enlighten the world, I must concentrate not on the amount of readers I gain, but on the dynamic effect of my writing. When I think of Holden now, I still see his flaws, his hypocrisy and his naïveté, but I also empathize for him as a person. He reminds me of how intimidating it was when I came of age, but also how much I have changed since then. My disdain for Holden helped me see how lost I had felt. I found myself; Holden never did.


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