These days our artistic landscape is so deeply defined by visual narratives on TV and in the movies that we can hardly imagine a world without images. Sometimes quality is judged solely based on a stories actions. In this image drenched society we sometimes struggle to appreciate and celebrate books and movies where the quality arises not exclusively from plot but also from the language and characters itself. The novel The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D. Salinger and the movie Stand by Me directed by Rob Reiner are examples of having uninteresting story line concepts but involving beautifully executed details. The Catcher in the Rye is about a teenager retelling the time when he spent three days in New York and Stand by Me is about a man retelling a story of when he and his friends walked on a railroad track for two days trying to find a dead body. But the weight isn’t in what you see; it’s in what you feel. The Catcher in the Rye and Stand By Me have both stood the test of time, and remain one of those rare pieces of art that show no rust from age. The densely woven human emotion portrayed by the characters, richness of structural design, and impacting ending resolution, are the reasons why these great pieces of art will never lose their relevance. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield’s expulsion from Pencey Prep and his journey back home to New York City, where he bums around for a few days while trying to get someone to listen to him and meaningfully respond to his fears about becoming an adult. Over and over again Holden tries to reach out to people who might tell him that adulthood will be okay – friends, old teachers, a prostitute, a nun, cab drivers – but he can never quite find a way to ask these questions directly and no one ever listens to him anyways. He says “people never notice anything” (Salinger 116) because he assumes people are too self-involved to pay attention to one another, and more importantly him. Throughout the novel Holden tries to find his place in a world in which he feels neglected. He is scared because he doesn’t understand anything around him, but he also refuses to acknowledge it. He conjures up this fantasy about adulthood, showing people as phonies, but in childhood, people are still genuine.
To Holden, phoniness is a symbol for everything wrong in the world and uses it as a reason to be so cynical and isolated. He spends so much time pointing out other people’s phoniness that he never faces the same qualities within himself. What Holden really wants is not sex or money or power or any of the dramatic stuff in Hollywood movies; what he wants is to stop time. Holden wants to be a protector of innocence – a catcher in the rye – but he also wants to stay innocent himself. He is so obsessed with the idea of protecting innocence that he can’t even throw a snowball at a car because the car “looked so nice and white” (Salinger 486). The relationships and interactions with people adults have to deal with completely overwhelm him, so he uses self-superiority as a cover up. The thing about adolescents is they go around saying things like “the world isn’t fair”, “everyone is horrible to each other”, “no one ever listens to me”, “everyone’s pretending to be someone they aren’t”, and adults usually just tell them to grow up. Everyone has gone through that period of adolescence when they absolutely despise the world, doubted the meaning of school, refused to conform to societal norms, become torn apart by emotions, and experience a tremendous amount of mood swings.
The ability to relate on such a personal level with Holden is what makes this novel a timeless classic. In Holden’s words, everyone hated this ‘phony’, hypocritical world. Adolescence is a time of entwined confusion, agony and growth. People believe they are different; that they are not going to be what people expect them to be, they are angry with the world, and they hate the people in it, yet even this anger and hatred towards the world is in-itself mediocre. In reality they are just some regular angry adolescent afraid of the emptiness and hollowness of life. Just like Holden, all they ever long for is just some little acts of affection and care, little things that are enough for them to feel loved. In contrast to The Catcher in the Rye following the story of a single person, there is Stand by Me which is a movie following the tale of four boys. This is a story about a road trip, but unlike typical road trips, this one involves travel by foot, and not over an extended distance.
The main characters are Gordie: a troubled individual lacking parental affection due to the loss of his brother, Chris: an introspective, abused child labeled being a “bad boy” (Stand by Me), he is also Gordies best friend, Teddy: the slightly crazy wild card with an abusive father, and Vern: the outcast of the group who no one pays much attention to. In many ways, the story is more about what the characters discover along the way than what they find at the end and their growing up is accelerated by lessons they learn about life and death. This story is centered more on the boys in a path way between their childhood and adulthood. As the four friends make their way through junkyards and leech-infested watery areas and along railroad tracks, they learn things about their inner thoughts. Each wrestles with his own demons and the film shows how all these individual weaknesses could be overcome in a group context. Through primary relationships, with their social support, intimacy, the “we” feeling, can function as safety valve in counterbalancing personal problems. Only when the friends are really together, their problems are manageable, if not curable. This movie has a sort of nostalgic feel to many individuals due to concept of everlasting childhood friendships. When the narrator says, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” (Stand by Me) it hits very close to home with a lot people. This movie pays tribute to the childhood everyone used to have, the countless days spent playing outside with the neighborhood kids, building forts out of pillows, and crying over a scraped knee. Stand by Me is both an ode to youthful friendship and a lament for the loss of that precious bond between grown men; a bond that is so powerful it never goes away. In 1957 Salinger wrote in a letter,
“The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are ready made scenes – only a fool would deny that – but for me the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the nonstop peculiarities of it, his personal extremely discriminating attitude to his reader — listener. He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first person technique.” There are in fact two Holden’s in The Catcher in the Rye. There is the sixteen year old Holden that the story is happening to and the seventeen year old Holden who is reciting the story. The Holden the story is happening to can’t get anyone to listen to him but a year later he finds a way to write about this story and make the reader care. All these experiences are obviously very important and intense to Holden but the intensity of these emotions are masked by the tactics of his narrations. It involves very close and attentive reading but Holden subtlety hinted at sexual abuse after a creepy encounter with an old teacher later saying “That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid” (Salinger 2643). Holden uses this passive voice constantly but he uses it as a coping mechanism, since this passive voice creates distance. Holden needed to create distance between himself and the reality of his pain.
This is seen very often in Holden’s voice and there are also other strategies of minimization of language as a form of self-protection but due to this passive voice and the function of grammar and word choice, Holden’s voice still remains authentic and real. After Stradlater asks the expelled Holden to write a composition for him and says to stick the commas in the wrong place Holden writes, “That’s something else that gives me a royal pain. I mean if you’re good at writing compositions and somebody starts talking about commas. Stradlater was always doing that. He wanted you to think that the only reason he was lousy at writing compositions was because he stuck all the commas in the wrong places. He was a little bit like Ackley, that way” (Salinger 379). This statement is ironic because the narrator stuck a comma in the wrong place. There shouldn’t technically be a comma before “that way” but it sounds right. Holden’s greatest gift as a narrator is that all these techniques of creating distance only makes it easier for the readers to empathize with him, especially when his defenses finally break down.
In contrast to The Catcher in the Rye’s narration style being Holden’s voice still sounding relevant today, the narration style in Stand by Me gives a nostalgic feel to the viewer. The fact that it is an older, grown up, more mature Gordie writing and reminiscing about his past makes the entire story give off simple yet unique experience. Adult Gordie is a successful writer recalling the time of his childhood in a good light and as Teddy rightfully put it, “I’m in the prime of my youth, and I’ll only be young once!” (Stand by Me). As adult Gordie retells his adventure he reminds people that they are all haunted by childhood’s end, by the important things they must leave behind on their long and arduous journey into adulthood: the intensity of their loves, fears, and innocence; the games; the laughter and bravado; and the deep bonds of friendship. There was also a lot of symbolism in Stand by Me to tie in with the story and its progression. The train tracks are representative of the children’s journey from childhood to adulthood and the scene with Gordie and the deer may have been a symbol of Gordie’s hope after all the unfortunate events that have impacted him personally, like the death of his brother. All these aspects in the movie gave a lasting impression to the audience. Also the usage of guns and cigarettes were one of the prominent elements that stood as a reminder of how different times used to be and made the movie feel more immediate and real.
In the end of the novel of The Catcher in the Rye something strange happens. Over and over again characters but especially Holden begin sentences with ‘listen’, “Listen do you feel like playing a little canasta?” (Salinger 626) Holden asks Ackley; Ackley doesn’t. To Luce he says, “Listen, hey, Luce. You’re one of these intellectual guys. I need your advice. I’m in a terrific—“ (Salinger 1964) and then Luce cuts him off unable to listen even to the end of the sentence. But at the end of the novel Holden says to Phoebe, “Listen, do you want to go for a walk?” (Salinger 2842). It takes her a while — they start out walking on opposite sides of the street — but they do go for a walk. Holden finally does get listened to and maybe it is realized as it is being read or maybe it isn’t but it works on people unconsciously regardless. And so moments later, there is the feeling of something welling up inside as Holden writes, “I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old phoebe kept going around and around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around in her blue coat and all. God I wish you could have been there” (Salinger 2905). The phrases that get repeated there are “so damn happy” and “kept going around and around”. Holden changed in this novel right there at the very end. The boy who wants nothing ever to change becomes so damn happy when he sees his little sister going around and around. When Holden stopped thinking of time as a line toward corrupt adulthood and starts imagining it as a circle where one goes around and around, in a journey to and from innocence that lasts throughout life time, he can finally be so damn happy As a reader it feels like the book has finally resolved itself; it invoked many emotions within, replacing any previous pain caused by Holden’s constant state of depression with a sense of everlasting hope. Yes Holden never really gets anywhere and yes nothing else much happens, he just keeps going around and around, but that doesn’t mean nothing changes.
The ending of Stand by Me is solid, hard-hitting, and leaves a lasting impression. The coming of age of Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern highlights the main idea of the movie. At the beginning of the movie, the four children, despite being personally affected by mature subject matter like the death of a relative or the experience of abuse, display their immaturity and childhood innocence by wanting to become town heroes for finding a dead body. However, as they reach their destination, they realize that becoming town heroes is of little importance in comparison to the importance of respecting Ray Brower, the person that died quite unexpectedly. After the four boys head back home in silence, they all part ways in a somewhat tragic way, which completes their growth and maturity throughout the film. After spending eighty eight minutes getting to know each of the four boys is such detail, the ending becomes overwhelmingly personal. Seeing Gordie and Chris break down crying, deeply hurts to the point of it being physically painful to watch. The audience has been there through this entire adventure, thay have watched them through every high and low point and they know all their backstories. They saw the labels placed on them by parents and people, and They saw how this caused them to fear going after their dreams, but in the end they end up fine anyways. The most heart wrenching moment was the last few lines of the film, ”Chris did get out. He enrolled in the College courses with me. And although it was hard he gutted it out like he always did. He went on to College and eventually became a lawyer. Last week he entered a fast food restaurant. Just ahead of him, two men got into an argument. One of them pulled a knife. Chris who would always make the best peace tried to break it up. He was stabbed in the throat. He died almost instantly. Although I haven’t seen him in more than ten years I know I’ll miss him forever.” (Stand by Me) Chris, the one in the gang to be thought to never achieve anything was the one to make it the farthest. When it’s found out that Chris passed away, everyone felt as though they lost someone close to them. This feeling is so raw and sincere that it can never be forgotten.
The Catcher in the Rye and Stand by Me are both beautiful rare pieces of art that have withstood the test of time and show no rust from age. These important parts of our history will forever remain relevant due to the densely woven human emotion portrayed by the characters, richness of structural design, and impacting ending resolution. It’s important to know how much a film about four young boys coming of age and facing the grim
realities of life as well as one young adolescent struggling to remain innocent and uncorrupted by the adult world really was such a monumental and life changing experience for all involved. Through symbols like the hunting cap in The Catcher in the Rye and the deer in Stand by Me people are able to understand and listen to what the writer is trying to convey and invoke within them. They care about the characters because of the miracle of language; especially effective figurative language. The snowballs, the nostalgic feel, the passive voice, the railroad track, and the carousel, are all things that give insight into Holden, Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern’s experiences. That is how people are able to empathize with these characters and how these characters get into people’s minds and makes them experience the world through the characters’ eyes. After describing Phoebe going around and around on that carousel Holden writes to the reader, “God I wish you could’ve been there” (Salinger 2905) but the reader is there. The act of reading and watching critically is a way into empathy for Holden, Gordie, and for everyone. It’s a way to hear and be heard, and that’s what makes it unforgettable.