Exit Stage Left

"It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)"
- R.E.M.

Most literary works delineate the lives of superhuman characters: people who achieve monumental goals in the face of great adversity, yet still respect the idiosyncracies of man. Salinger's characters, however, follow a different path. They keep in touch with reality, and rarely accomplish anything extraordinary in the eyes of men. They attack the rules of society, and become victories only by escaping from its confines.

The character that comes closest to achieving public prominence is Teddy, the ten year old prodigy. The world's major universities interview him, tapes of his mediational thoughts are played at parties, and he corresponds with many distinguished professors. Even though he has a cult falling, Teddy is oblivious to the world. He is dressed in a tattered shirt that's too big for him, coupled with nonmatching pants; he attempts to avoid conversation by choosing an isolated seat. He is fascinated by the orange peels floating out the 'window', and feels no need to correctly refer to his looking spot as a 'portal'. Through meditation, Teddy has achieved peace with himself, and has no need for the world's knowledge. His philosophy entails the deletion of all knowledge to achieve a greater state of consciousness where a square is not necessarily a square. He has fought and won the war against the world, and rejoices the opportunity to leave the battlefield.

Similarly, Holden Caufield was fighting his own war. Throughout Catcher in the Rye, Caufield figuratively spat upon the world of sycophant conformists. However, unlike the most nonconformists, he shows a great deal of respect for true followers of organized religion. The catholic nuns he meets are among the few outsiders he respects. He feels obligated to provide them with a monetary assistance, because he realizes that they are doing what they feel they believe in, and are not 'fake' (like the man who played Christ in the Christmas pageant). In addition to disliking the actor who "couldn't wait to smoke a cigarette after he got down from the cross", Caufield despised the majority of the prep school personnel. They were phony, thrilled by there own bombastic tautology, and reluctant to impart any useful knowledge to the students. Indeed, Caufield was much like the Dead Poet's Society students: he was inspired by a few thought-provoking teachers, and thus decided to drop his sycophancy in favor of an expression of true thoughts. Unfortunately, society was unwilling to accept someone critical of its fallacies, and he was not ready to completely ostracize himself from it.

Holden's younger brother, Allie, had the strength to remove himself from the binds of society. Unlike other baseball players, who felt it was necessary to bore themselves waiting in the outfield, Allie occupied himself with poetry inscribed on his glove. In addition to meditating upon his 'baseball glove' poetry, he also pursued many other avenues of learning, and was (in Holden's eyes) a 'perfect child' before he was abruptly taken from the earth. He was probably good friends with Teddy, and felt great relief that he could be taken from the earth to join his friend in a place more fitting to their intellects. However, he probably turned over in his grave when he saw all the unknown relatives, who waited for a supposed catastrophe to pay homage to him.

Salinger's characters were constrained by the rules of society, and attempted to overcome them. Some, such as Holden, had stayed too long, and were overcome by enticing facets of society and forced to stay. Others, like Allie and Teddy, had completed their trial on earth by overcoming the uselessness of society, and were taken away.