Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Reports: The Catcher In The Rye; The Bell Jar

I didn't plan it this way, but I just finished two bildungsroman novels. That's a fancy word for a "coming-of-age" novel. In a bildungsroman, a protagonist sets off on a journey that takes him/her from childhood through adulthood and eventually leaves the character with an acceptance, if not appreciation, of their new place in society.

First up, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. At first blush, this book might seem to be just random, wandering thoughts of a typical adolescent. Delve a little deeper and Salinger's novel is a work of art. It covers a two-day physical journey of Holden Caulfield from his privileged prep school back to his home in New York. Even more important, Holden makes a spiritual journey from an adolescent clinging to childhood, to an adolescent moving into adulthood.

Salinger was a master at using motifs and symbols to let us in on where Holden is emotionally throughout the story and what he fears. Note, for instance, when Holden's wearing his hunting cap and whether it's turned forwards or backwards.

You probably read this book in high school. I think you'll get more out of it as an adult. Besides, reading about adolescent angst is easier when you're not going through it yourself.

Yesterday I read that poet Sylvia Plath's son {45-year-old Nicholas Plath} killed himself. How ironic that I'd just finished reading her only novel--The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar is Plath's semi-autobiographical story of a young, talented, intelligent woman {Esther Greenwood} who decends into the pit of depression, attempts suicide, and then slowly, barely, claws her way out. This is a raw, unvarnished look at struggling with mental illness from the inside. Only someone who's fought a personal battle with depression could have written with such clarity.

The Bell Jar was first published under the pseudonym `Victoria Lucas' in January 1963. Sylvia Plath committed suicide February 11, 1963. She was just 30-years-old.

1 comment:

Lesli said...

I LOVE The Bell Jar. I think I need to re-read it.