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 while respecting 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. Instead, they attack the rules of society, and become victorious 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 (including Oxford and Edinberg) interview him, tapes of his mediational thoughts are played at parties, and he corresponds with many distinguished professors. Even though he has a cult following, Teddy is oblivious to the world. He is dressed in a tattered shirt and oversized pants, and much in need of a haircut; he attempts to avoid conversation by choosing an isolated se at. Furthermore, he is fascinated by the orange peels floating out the 'window', and feels no need to correctly refer to his looking spot as a 'porthole'. Through meditation, Teddy has achieved peace with himself, and has no need for the world's knowled ge. His philosophy entails the deletion of all knowledge to achieve a greater state of consciousness where an arm is not necessarily an arm. He has fought and won the war against the world, and rejoices the opportunity to leave the battlefield.

Similarly, Holden Caulfield is fighting his own war. Throughout Catcher in the Rye, Caulfield figuratively spit upon the world of sycophant conformists. However, unlike most nonconformists, he shows a measure 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 monetary assistance because he realizes that they are doing what they feel they believe in. They are 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", Caulfield despised the majority of the Pencey and Elkton Hills prep school personnel. They were phony, thrilled by there own bombastic tautology, and reluctant to impart any useful knowledge to the students. Even Mr. Spenser, the Pensey teacher that he most respected, angered him with repetition and preachy lectures. Indeed, Caulfield 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. His teachers wrote an endless stream of laudatory notes, and Holden regarded him as "two years younger... but fifty times more intelligent." F urthermore, he was always cool and calm. As a red head, he was supposed to "get mad very easily," but Allie never did. Instead, he would often laugh gregariously at himself. He was probably good friends with Teddy, and felt great relief that he could b e taken from the earth to join his friend in a place more fitting for 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.

Teddy and Allie both had the strength to rise above the insolent waste of society, and find their own truths. Holden, however, was not ready to separate himself from society's binds. He did not posses the strength or the intellect of his two younger co unterparts. Instead of being a brave colonist who achieved independence from England, Caulfield was a southerner, oppressed by victorious northerners.