Holden Caulfield--too white to be relevant?

From today’s Washington Post:

The article goes on to note the many districts giving up on Caulfield, and interviewing educators and students as to why the book is not relevant to today’s readers. Several students were also interviewed who appreciated the book.

It seems to come down to this: Because Caulfield is a “white, privledged male,” students of a differing ethnic or economic background won’t be able to understand (or properly appreciate) Caulfield’s feelings or decisions.

Disclaimer: I’ve not actually read the book (amazing, but true), so I can not speak from a personal experience. My point, anyway, is not to debate the merits of the book itself, but to question why a literary character would have to be representative of a certain demographic to be taught to today’s students.

Am I incapable of understanding the plight of the accused in To Kill a Mockingbird because I am not a poor black?

Is a WASPy suburbanite like me unable to connect deeply with The Chosen’s Reuven and Danny, two New York Jews (one Hasidic), circa WWII?

My answer is a resounding NO. The Chosen was one of the best books I have ever read, and I consider myself enriched because of my exposure to it. To suggest otherwise is insulting.

My understanding of the appeal of Catcher in the Rye is that the themes of angst and teenage isolation are presented in a powerful manner, such that any person could relate. Indeed, in the words of an Asian student interviewed for the article: “I liked it because it was about a guy who loses it, and us teenagers go through lots of ups and downs. Also, I could understand this book…It doesn’t matter to me that he wasn’t from an Asian family.”

To what extent should educators limit students’ exposure to literature based on multicultural differences?

The principle that he is “too white” doesn’t make it a bad book. JD Salinger’s terrible writing makes it a bad book (I recently wrote a 5 page essay on this book, trashing it in every page.) Maybe Caufield’s race shouldn’t keep it out of school, but I wouldn’t be crying if I was deprived the opportunity to read that piece of crap in school.

Well, no fan of this book am I, but the stated reasons for yanking it out of various curricula are ridiculous. What’s next on the block? The Great Gatsby was about a rich white guy too. Forget Hamlet. I mean, that guy was a prince, so surely my midwestern background would prevent me from relating to such a life. Maybe my all-white high school have tossed jazz and blues from the music curriculum because it was “too black.”

Multicultural education, if it is to have any meaning, should be such that any and all viewpoints/ethnicities/classes should be presented. It’s supposed to be about learning after all, which kind of assumes you’ll be exposed to new ideas and situations.

Maybe it wasent racist enough for the school boards?

Depends on who you ask! :wink:

This is something I can most charitably describe as “one helluva stretch.” Although it’s been years since I read TGG, I am more than a little skeptical of this particular claim.

Could you perhaps expound on this a bit? Your point is not exactly jumping out at me.

What a shame. I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye, though I admit that it’s not Salinger’s best effort.

The text does comment on many social phenomena - class, adolescence, authority, gender, and, yes, even race. But to write it off because it’s too this or not enough that is preposterous.

It’s akin to those “Mad woman in the attic” feminsts who say that only women can appreciate books BY women and that women should only read books by women. This sort of closed-mindedness detracts from the reading experience. Attempts like this to limit discourse serve only to limit discourse as a whole. I can’t talk about something I haven’t been exposed to, at least not from a position of knowing whatever I’m talking about.

The value of a book like Catcher may not be in its style or in its context. The real value may lie within the interaction of text and reader. Is Holden a reprehensible character? How does this notion of NYC compare to others, like that of Langston Hughes or zora neale hurston? How can Holden accuse others of being “phony” when he’s the phoniest character of all? What defines adulthood? Is it appearance or disposition?

Political/cultural perspecives are but one of myriad approaches to this text - and all have value within the discourse. Exploring the differences in these perspectives provides an excellent opportunity to learn. Too bad some kids are going to miss out.

While its important to present kids with many viewpoints from many cultures, its not good to jam a book with diversity just for the same of multi-ethnicity. It should be natural. Writing about white people primarily doesn’t make you a racist. Neither does it make your works narrow minded.

That’s the greatness of literature. It can transcend these differences. I’m not particularly lower class, but I enjoy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I’m not part of the FBI but I enjoy Thomas Harris, and I’m not part of high society New York, but I appreciate Dominck Dunne. Books aren’t necessarily just about their subjects. There can be lower underlying themes that everyone, all of humanity even (sorry if thats trite!) can relate to.
Is it nice to learn about a new culture? Is it important to let kids know that America isn’t the only nation? Yes, opening the doors to other ethnic groups is significant; it’s beneficial to students if they can learn about other ways of life. But that’s not the primary goal of an English class. You have to focus on the literature itself. And while I myself, like some of the Dopers, am not able to identify with said “white privileged male” other people are and should not be denied that. Again, books are about learning to relate to other people.

I really shouldn’t be writing this, since it seems everyone agrees with me and I’m just wasting my time. But That little “5” under my name is just embarrassing.

What the hell ever happened to the “human condition”? Is it really that hard to believe that a whiny rich white boy has something in common with a whiny poor hispanic girl? And besides, if you force this kind of all-encompassing multiculturalism on people, you wind up with a society more homogenized than the most reactionary conservative could ever hope for anyway.

Hey, related question, does art ever actually transend culture? I remember when I was still trying to get through college, and I read in an anthropology class about this woman tried to teach Hamlet to this African tribe whose name escapes me. Anyway, the stuff they got out of the story was just plain bizarre because; a) They didn’t have any conception of ghosts in their culture. b) Men were actually <i>expected</i> to marry their dead brothers’ wives and take care of them. If I recall, the conclusion they reached was that Hamlet’s mother was a witch who had put some sort of curse on him.

“Striking the J.D. Salinger classic from high school syllabuses because it fails to reflect multiculturalism” is idiotic. Most books are written from a narrow perspective. ‘Catcher in the rye’ had mainly white characters. ‘The Godfather’ had mainly Italian characters. Is that book ‘relevant’ to todays readers? To some, sure. To others, not so much. That’s the way it should be.

Try to make something that everyone can relate to, and you’ll end up producing a piece of crap. Should a fiction writer think about how his/her characters would react to a situation, or how readers from different cultures would react to the writing?

If they want to strike ‘Catcher in the rye’, they should strike it because it’s a dull piece of crap, not because it ‘fails to reflect multiculturalism’.
BTW, can anyone name a good work of fiction that does reflect multiculturalism? What does ‘reflect multiculturalism’ even mean???

I don’t think one work really can do that job very well. It’s the collection of works on the syllabus taken together that should reflect multiculturalism. As far as what that means, loosely defined it means presenting works from a wide array of viewpoints. Ethnic views get the most attention, but gender, age, class, should be in the mix as well. Of course no syllabus will include everyone, but they should be as varied as possible if our goal is multicultural education.

It’s been a long time, but IIRC the version I read in anthropology class was about MacBeth being read to an African tribe. So I’m sure there are other similar studies out there. It’s a good question, though.

Well IMO good literature is about books, not race…

If students are so disturbed by Holden Caulfield’s caucasion…ness, they are free to read books on their own that reflect multiculturism.

About the MacBeth/Hamlet thing. That is an example, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one shouldn’t read something from another culture. That is, it may be hard to relate to it, but you can make an effort to try if you want…or if not, just not read it. And it is one way to break through to another’s culture. Though again, literature isn’t about racial issues…it goes deeper, its not that superficial.

I like “Catcher in the Rye,” to begin with. But I think that “reflect multiculturalism” means involving groups other than white society in the 1930s.

One might suggest, for instance, some of Richar Price’s novels. I have read “The Wanderers” and “The Breaks” and find them both responsive to perspectives other than white and suburban.

I think there are lots of books that could be included in the term “reflecting multiculturalism.” However, most of them, I suspect have been written in the past 15 years and it is difficult to rationalize literature to school boards that they have not read. The vast majority of school board members in the US, I would suspect, have read a very limited spectrum of books since they graduated college themselves. When they see something that might not reflect their particular values, they read the reviews of the book and discover that it addresses drug use, or homosexuality or disfunctional families and “determine” that such literature is “inappropriate.”

So we have to resort to the “classics,” such as TCITR, which are nearly 70 years old. There are three reasons we have difficulty finding literature that “reflects multiculturalism:”

  1. The teachers today read too little and have to much to do with administrative and political matters.

  2. We don’t include ANY contemporary literature in the curriculum of high school students. (I think we’re afraid of it).

  3. Local School Boards are too involved in the minutae of daily classwork. (Let the teacher decide!)

Maybe I didn’t quite answer the question, but that’s how I feel.

I suspect the real number of school boards who reflect the opinion of the press-hungry PhD who came up with this teaddle is smaller than you think. Good literature (and Catcher In Te Rye was okay) should be about people. Diversitry is good, diversity for the sake of diversity is rather less so.

Ain’t the internet grand? The piece is called, “Shakespeare in the Bush”; the author is Laura Bohannan.

And perhaps some think that Holden is too whiny to be relevant.

It’s actually quite interesting when you read it from that perspective. After reading the article on Salon, I read it again (I’d just finished reading it a month before). It’s kinda like reading Catcher in the Rye first from the perspective that Holden’s a rich white kid who goes to an uptight private school ([sarcasm]gee, I can’t identify with that at all…[/sarcasm]), then reading it as if the kid had clinical anxiety/depression (now that I do have).

And how is being whiny not relevant to the 90s?! This whole thread is predicated on some bigot’s whininess about ‘Holden Caulfield ain’t black/Asian/Martian so he must be a NAZI!’ or some such BS. The entire scene of daytime TV is entirely whine-driven! From soap operas to talk shows to Exhibitionist TV (Springer and crew), people whine about everything in front of everyone. Whereas Salinger had the good sense to write a novel about the topic, the whiners these days broadcast it over a million miles of airspace that could be used for something decent, like Peruvian Pigfucking competitions. I’ll stop now. This isn’t the Pit.


Derleth, you are now my idol.

Ok, carry on.