Like Wordsworth, Salinger favors the didactic colloquy as a prelude to emotional awakening. A teacher-without a schoolroom, of course-prepares the pupil for the recognition. Along the same lines, the leech gatherer in Wordsworth, an old man who endures despite poverty and the harshness of the environment, has a few direct, simple words-"apt admonishment" for a narrator who is depressed and caught in a web of self-absorption; he has his message, his example, his acceptance of life. Salinger's Phoebe Caulfield has her corresponding childish insights to offer an older brother caught in a similar emotional crisis.
Wordsworth's great awakening scenes: the discovery of joy and heightened understanding and the capacity for close identification with others who are experiencing instinctual pleasure or fulfillment or satisfactory endurance. "By our spirits are we deified," Wordsworth put it.
Mill emerging from his despondency: the melancholy observer awakens to the joy of life by observing another's deep involvement in some form of release or reclamation.
Holden tells us that the character Alec staggers around on a cane until he meets a "homey babe" who wants to rejuvenate him, share her love of Dickens-as well as get help in her floundering publishing business, help badly needed since her cracked-up surgeon brother has been spending all the profits.
When Salinger taught writing at Columbia, he was disdainful of the whole notion of classroom analysis of works. Just read them. We murder to dissect. We even murder to account for or scrutinize.
No section of the book is without its precepts, prohibitions, and practical tips for cant-free living. It is, in this sense, one of the first manuals of cool, a how-to guide for those who would detach themselves from the all-American postwar pursuit of prosperity and bliss. Holden the drop-out and outsider speaks like some crazed, half-literate Castiglione as he discourses on everything from clothing and bearing to the appropriate responses of a cool person in any situation.
The following precepts are crucial:
-Ignore the messages of mass media. ("The goddamn movies. They can ruin you.")
-Be "casual as hell."
-Avoid any air of superiority or trace of competitiveness.
-Value digressions more highly than logical arguments.
-Never use the word "grand."
-Scorn routine sociability.
-Observe the margins of life: the remarks of children, the conduct of nuns; ignore the main acts. (The guy who plays the kettle drums at Radio City Music Hall is more important than the "Christmas thing" with "O Come All Ye Faithful.")
But for all its durability, does Catcher continue to make sense to the mature mind? Is it infantile and simplistic, reductive and negative, expressing the attitude of a kid who is soon to get the therapy he needs? One can only say that the scorn for conventions and the search for joy are a part of the ongoing romantic project that started in the eighteenth century.