CW: mentions of child sexual abuse ("CSA")
I just finished reading Catcher in the Rye for the first time. We’ve all heard that liking this novel is a “red flag” and folks seem to talk a lot of shit when men and young boys like this novel especially. I knew this book resonated with some real criminals who enacted awful acts of violence, so I was truly expecting the worst. I was completely shocked by the actual nature of the novel.
As someone who works with teens/in youth services, I found Holden heartbreaking. He’s a teenager dealing with depression, isolation, and trauma, both from the loss of his brother and, it’s revealed, childhood sexual abuse/sexual assault. After he evades assault from Mr Antolini, he has a panic response and confesses to the reader: “that kind of stuff's happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can't stand it.”
I feel like all anybody ever speaks about when it comes to Catcher is how annoying/pretentious Holden is - but isn’t this very obviously a trauma response to unspeakable suffering? Catcher in the Rye isn't about Holden being an ethical model to follow- instead, Holden is deeply flawed and poorly adjusted because he has not been given the resources to heal from the trauma he's suffered. The novel’s approach to sexual violence doesn’t even begin and end with Holden - it permeates the novel, from Jane Gallagher (who is being abused by her step-father) to the sex worker Holden meets in the city to the sexual violence/aggression Holden knows his peers enact against other students and girls he knows.
It’s a really weird “flex” that people think dunking anyone who identifies or likes Holden is impressive. Do people realize that some CSA survivors, especially boys who are far less likely to speak up about their abuse, may see themselves in Holden? Are they aware that finding Holden annoying for whining or being pretentious or jaded or depressed likely perpetuates the idea that the only good victims of abuse are the noble, palatable ones (ie the ones that don’t actually exist outside of movies)? What do y’all think?
Edit: Just to be clear, I'm not saying you're not allowed to dislike Holden or Catcher in the Rye. I'm talking specifically about the folks who say that anyone who likes the book is toxic or that it's a "red flag" to like it or have it on your bookshelves.
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